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10 Natural Instincts and Learned Behaviors That Work Against Parents

April 3, 2012

Most of the time we applaud the “mother’s instinct” and usually it is right on target; particularly so in emergency situations. We all have instincts and usually they can help us out in the majority of situations. With that being said, there are situations when those instincts can work against parents and at times the results are not seen until years, maybe even decades, later. Here are a few examples.

  1. The need to be liked – Nearly every human being wants to be liked by others. That extends to parents. It’s amazing how much control our kids can have over us by displaying behavior that shows we have fallen out of favor with them. Some parents will do almost anything to gain or keep their child’s approval. In reality, this is not helpful. Boundaries need to be set and rules enforced. Your child may not like you for a minute, but those feelings won’t last long. Children need and want boundaries. It makes them feel safe.
  2. Protection from harm – Of course, you want to protect your child from harm. You wouldn’t be much of a parent if you didn’t feel that way; however, over protection can lead to serious problems. Keeping your child in an entirely sheltered environment can leave them ill prepared to deal with the real world. The world will not change to fit the needs of your child. You must teach your child how to navigate in the world.
  3. Trying to be fair – Parents with more than one child often experience the challenge of trying to make everything fair. The truth is things are not always fair. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but it is a fact. The best way to work it out with children is to have a talk with them and help them to understand that life is full of both fair and not so fair situations.
  4. Taking responsibility – There is a strong instinct to take responsibility. Being a parent means being responsible. Yet, there are times when our children have to take responsibility for their own actions. If you always step in and excuse your child for his or her behavior and never let the child accept the consequences of misbehavior, then you are setting your child up for misery down the road. You won’t always be there to run interference.
  5. Holding a grudge – Some people have a natural instinct to hold a grudge against someone they feel has wronged them. This doesn’t work well with children. If your child does something wrong, mete out the discipline and be done with it. Grudges don’t accomplish anything.
  6. Perfect children – Every parent wants to believe that they have perfectly behaved, perfectly honest children. Sometimes parents have difficulty acknowledging imperfections they may see in their children, or they may go to great lengths to eradicate them. No one is perfect. Everyone has something that could be improved upon. Acknowledging your child’s shortcomings and helping them overcome them in a thoughtful manner is much more helpful than pretending they don’t exist or trying to ridicule them away.
  7. Providing for your children – What kind of parent would you be if you didn’t provide for your children? The instinct is to provide, but sometimes parents overdo it by giving their children everything they want, and more. There is a lot to be said for teaching your children about working for what they want and delayed gratification.
  8. The need to be in control – There is a survival instinct that causes us to want to be in control of our circumstances. Once you become a parent you can rest assured you will be somewhat in control of most circumstances, but that’s about the most you can hope for. For your own wellbeing and the sanity of your family, you may need to check your need for control.
  9. The need to wield power – For some there is an instinct to wield power over others. This instinct can lead to power struggles with your toddler as well as teenagers, and the ages in between; not to mention the fact that infants pretty much hold all the power concerning their needs and desires. Learn to ease up on the power trip and try negotiation instead.
  10. Resisting change – When we find ourselves in comfortable situations our instincts tell us to stay right where we are. Even though everyone knows the only constant is change, most of us resist it. Parenting is all about change. So, the only thing to do is to accept that life is going to be in a constant state of change and enjoy the ride.

The instincts we have are there to guide us and protect us from the unknowns we face daily. As parents we need to know when to ease up on letting some of our instincts take over and when to seriously pay attention to them. If we grasp the notion that sometimes they can cause us to be over-protective, over-bearing or worse, then perhaps we can monitor them and make them work for us instead of against us.


6 Responses to 10 Natural Instincts and Learned Behaviors That Work Against Parents

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My Child says:

I believe it is very important to be in control as its very comforting for your kids.
Awesome 10 points! Thanks

Tracy says:

I actually have to say that while the items on the list are legitimate and things parents should be cognizant of, I think your use of “instincts” is not only wrong, but downright dangerous. First, everything you list isn’t “instinctual”, it’s learned behaviour. Highly ingrained learned behaviour, to be sure, especially in Western cultures, but learned it is.

But second, and more importantly, by using the word “instinct”, the underlying message you send to parents is that following their instincts will harm their children. What we know from both experimental research and anthropological studies is that that simply isn’t true. Our parenting instincts are built in to PROTECT our children and in turn and usually limited to things like feeding, sleeping, keeping them close, and keeping them safe. But when you start putting the idea into people’s heads that what they know to be good is actually not true, you erode their confidence and ability to parent successfully. Even your point about keeping a child “too safe” isn’t based on instinct. Parents for hundreds of thousands of years have instinctually known to let their child fly the coup, or simply take some steps away. The overbearing parent is more to do with this lack of confidence parents have. Because they don’t trust themselves, they don’t trust their children and become overbearing – it’s rooted in anxiety, not instinct.

So I would urge you to keep the article, but change the terminology. Your points are important, but they are not instincts and I feel the article does more damage than good in the way it is currently presented.

admin says:

Great point, we modified the title accordingly and will look at further edits! Thanks for contributing to the blog, we really appreciate it!

Kristy Brooks says:

I agree about the instincts vs. learned behavior – we should trust our natural instincts to love, provide and protect our children. Society has done a number on the confidence level of parents, kids and really just humans in general. We need to find ways to re-empower parents and build their confidence back up so that they can allow kids to leave home with little fuss and to back off and not be so overbearing.

Rhonda says:

Teaching your children that it’s OK to hold grudges is one of the worst lessons you can impart. You will be much happier letting go of those feelings of negativity. There’s nothing to be gained from continually harboring ill feelings towards others.

Good article.

Jovi Mitchell says:

I was always resistant, and even fearful of change before I had kids. Nothing teaches you to roll with the punches quite like toddlers do – adaptability is key to raising kids!