Signs of Toxic Parenting and How to Avoid It for Your Kids
Toxic parenting is when a parent is more concerned with their own needs over their child. They consistently behave in ways that are harmful and detrimental to their children—and sometimes they may not even realize it.
The sad reality is growing up with a tough childhood experience is all too common in America.
According to the CDC, 61% of adults reported having at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE). People of color and women are at higher risk of having experienced 4 or more ACEs.
Recognizing how toxic parents affect you can help you unlearn harmful behaviors that you may have brought into adulthood. It can also help make you aware of what behaviors to avoid as you raise your own children.
What does toxic parenting look like?
Toxic parenting is made up of many different behaviors. Oftentimes, toxic parenting includes the following:
- Selfish behaviors: Parents that constantly bring things back to, “what about ME?” often exhibit selfish behaviors. These parents are usually emotionally unavailable for their children, narcissistic, or uncaring towards their child’s emotions/needs.
- Physical and verbal abuse: Parents may present subtle behaviors that aren’t physical—such as gaslighting, consistently giving your child the silent treatment, or always shifting the blame towards them. It could also be physical—including hitting, yelling, threatening, etc.
- Controlling behaviors: Parents may invade a child’s privacy and be overly involved in their decision-making process. They also could be overly critical of a child’s decisions—and this may even follow the child into adulthood.
- Manipulative behaviors: Parents could withhold money, time, or other items. They also may use guilt, shame, or regret to try and manipulate a child’s behavior.
- Lack of boundaries: Parents that just don’t know when to take a step back. They will continuously push to make the child act in a certain way. The child may become so frustrated they are forced to comply.
It’s important to recognize that we’re all human. And it’s only natural that parents will exhibit these types of behaviors from time to time out of frustration. But when it consistently happens it has a grave impact on children. It’s important to take a step back and look at your childhood experience.
Are you able to recognize how some toxic parenting traits may have impacted how you act as an adult?
How do toxic parents affect you?
When you’re exposed to toxic stress at a young age, it impacts your brain development. It also impacts how your body responds to stress. This can lead to:
- Chronic health problems
- Mental illnesses
- Substance abuse in adulthood
There are also various lessons that may become ingrained in you as a result of toxic parenting. Some examples of lessons you may have taught yourself due to toxic parenting include:
1. Love is only conditional
If your parents taught you that you’re only lovable when you’re acting to their standard, you may have picked up this belief.
They taught you that when you’re not acting to their standard you will be punished and they don’t love you. You believe that in order to be loved, you have to act in a way that’s pleasing towards them.
2. You have to hide who you truly are
Toxic parents will shame, insult, or abuse you for being your authentic self. This is especially prevalent for LGBTQ children who grew up in homes that were not accepting of them. You’re taught to not play with certain toys, and that having crushes on certain people was wrong.
This could also be that your parents didn’t accept your personality. If you were a child who loved to talk and your parents constantly told you to be quiet—you were taught to hide who you truly were.
3. Having emotions is unsafe
When you have toxic parents, you may have been taught that expressing emotions in any way is harmful. This can cause adults to internalize their emotions, and in some instances even practice self harm.
This also applies to emotional connections. As humans, we naturally gravitate towards human connection, but in a toxic household you may have been taught that being vulnerable towards others is not safe. This results in adults who self-sabotage connections.
4. A constant need to people-please or be a perfectionist
In a toxic household, children may be ignored or have their needs unmet from their parents. This causes them to constantly try to please their parents and be “perfect” in order to have them meet their needs. Oftentimes, children in these situations also don’t want anyone to know what’s really going on at home—reinforcing their need to meet this “perfect” image.
As adults, this constant need to be perfect leads to burnout, dependency, and a greater risk of having others take advantage of you.
5. Not feeling good enough no matter how hard you try
If you grew up in an environment that was invalidating, placed a lot of blame on you, and/or where you were told you were not good enough—this impacts your behavior as an adult.
If a parent prioritized substance abuse over you, then you begin to believe you’ll never be good enough. This feeling can carry on with you into adulthood.
Overcoming toxic parenting and creating a better future for your kids
Unlearning toxic parenting takes time and work. As an adult, it’s important to:
- Take time to reflect on your beliefs. It’s important to assess what you tell yourself everyday—without labeling these thoughts as “good” or “bad”—and realizing what may have triggered them.
- Reframe toxic thoughts to give yourself grace. Realize that this behavior stemmed from toxic childhood experiences and consistently remind yourself of this.
- Practice forgiveness towards your childhood. Forgive yourself for the guilt, blame, shame, or trauma you carry due to your childhood.
- Work with a therapist or trusted professional on inner child work. Bring the unmet needs of your childhood back into consciousness, and resolve them now that you have more knowledge.
As a parent, when raising your kids you should take steps to actively improve your parenting skills. Some things you could try include:
- Expanding your knowledge about parenting: Checkout books, websites, and articles that teach you about how to be an effective parent. Take time to learn about effective approaches to parenting, so you don’t subconsciously repeat behaviors you may have been exposed to as a child.
- Take a class on parenting: Many local hospitals, community organizations, schools, and libraries offer parenting courses. Whether you’re expecting your first child or you already have children—a parenting class can be an effective way to build your skills and knowledge. It can also be a great way to meet parents going through similar experiences, and help you build a community of people surrounding you.
- Participate in therapy: Connecting with a mental health professional you trust, can be extremely beneficial. They’ll help you reflect on your own experiences, so you can show up as the best version of yourself for your kids.
- Be present in your child’s life: Making an active effort to spend time with your kids is crucial. Ask them questions and learn about what’s happening in their lives. If they feel they can confide in you, this will help build your lifelong relationship with them. It will also help you build a strong and healthy bond with them.