Bad parenting trait #1: you talk at your child instead of with them

Communication between parent and child can be a tricky thing, especially as children become older and have opinions of their own. These traits may have come from advice from your parents, while others you may have picked up on your own. Dr Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist known for her focus on the mental health of adolescents and teens, says communicating in the right way is key for parents.

“Toxic parents are known for not listening to their kids, but instead, talking over them or at them,” she says. “If parents recognise themselves doing this they should make a concerted effort to remain silent and listen, listen, and listen some more. If kids feel listened to they will talk more and confide more.

Bad parenting trait #2: you get lost in negative thoughts

Parents can have the tendency to get lost in their own thoughts, and for toxic parents, this behaviour can lead to a negative response in their children. Dr Jeffrey Bernstein, an internationally recognised child psychology expert says that a parent’s thoughts are often at the root of negative behaviour in children.

He explains, “No kid is perfect, but parents often don’t realise just how much their own thoughts, rather than their children’s behaviour, contribute to their own emotions.” Parents that catch themselves in a cycle of negative thinking should take a step back and rephrase their negative thoughts into more positive ones. For example, rephrasing the thought “He’s being such a brat today,” into “He’s having a hard time today, I wonder what’s going on,” can have a big impact on your interaction with your child.

Bad parenting trait #3: you don’t manage your own frustrations

Parenting is fraught with frustrations on a daily basis, and recognising these trigger points can be the first step in making life easier. Dr Bernstein believes that parents can recognise how their own frustrations impact their child’s behaviour. “When you learn to identify and manage your own parenting frustrations, you’ll be amazed at how your child’s challenging behaviours can quickly improve,” he says.

This might mean that you schedule extra time into your morning routine to prepare for a lengthy breakfast, or the five extra minutes your child needs to put her shoes on just right. Instead of berating your child for your own lack of planning, find ways to reduce the frustration before it begins.

Bad parenting trait #4: you put down their playmates

Every child will bring home a friend or two that might cause you to raise your eyebrows. Expressing criticism about your child’s friends will only lead to a toxic outcome, says Dr Greenberg. “Toxic parents criticise their child’s friends. If you criticise their friends, you are criticising your kids. At least, that’s what they take from this behaviour. Instead, find out why each of their friends are special to them,” she recommends.

Bad parenting trait #5: you label your child

Toxic parents confuse a child’s bad behaviour with a negative identity and have no differentiation between bad choices and a bad child. “If you think about it, parents are ‘on duty’ 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Dr Bernstein explains.

“The lack of time for parents to catch their breath and reflect can lead them sometimes to see their children in global ways. As a result, toxic labels such as: lazy, problematic, selfish and inconsiderate can result in parents influencing their children to be locked into a negative identity. And labelled kids are usually fraught with frustration, hurt, anger and resentment. They will be demotivated for making positive changes. Many adults lament how they themselves were labelled as children. Toxic labels leave toxic baggage.”

Focus on your child’s behaviour and how to fix it, instead.

Bad parenting trait #6: you compare your child to others

One of the worst behaviours of a toxic parent is comparing a child to his siblings or friends in the hopes that he will exhibit the same good behaviour. Dr Greenberg says, “Instead, you should celebrate each child’s individuality; comparisons damage self-esteem and do not serve as motivation.”

Bad parenting trait #7: you say “You always…”

Although the data is still preliminary, experts have observed altered mental states or confusion in some patients with COVID-19, according to April 2020 studies published in JAMA Neurology and the NEJM. Again, it’s not always clear if the virus is responsible for the changes, especially when the symptoms appear in someone who is older.

“Just having a 75-year-old patient with fever can make them a little goofy,” says Dr Heinz, who also headed the Obama Administration’s domestic response to the Ebola crisis. “That complicates our ability to say it’s related to this virus. It could be something specific, but [it] also could be a very sick person in an unfamiliar place with other conditions.” Like every other aspect of COVID-19, Dr Heinz adds, this “needs to be better defined and studied.”

Bad parenting trait #8: you openly criticise yourself

Bad parenting and toxic parents are notorious for constantly berating themselves about superficial issues, like weight or appearance. “Children look toward their parents to see examples of just about everything, self-esteem included,” Dr Greenberg says.

“Devaluing yourself in front of your child is a toxic parenting behaviour. Children model after their parents and if you are calling yourself ‘fat,’ ‘stupid,’ etc. then guess what? Your kids are likely to do the same.” It is best to keep the negative thoughts about yourself quiet, and instead give your children an example of positive self-care they can follow, like exercising or eating well.

Bad parenting trait #9: you try to be your child’s best friend

Children need parents to be parents ­– and when parents try to dodge parenting altogether and instead become a friend, the results are disastrous. For toxic parents, this can include dressing like their child, befriending their child’s friends (to an inappropriate degree), and even disclosing too much personal information to their child at a young age.

Co-dependency between a parent and child sets up an unhealthy dynamic in which the child feels guilty for outgrowing the parent (something that is natural and healthy), and the parent refuses to find companions within their own age group. The roles of parent and child need to be firmly in place with clear boundaries in order for a child to feel comfortable and grow to be a mentally healthy adult.

Bad parenting trait #10: you refuse to let them be independent

All parents know that watching children grow up can be a sad but beautiful process full of pride and wistfulness about the past. For toxic parents, however, this process becomes one filled with overbearing caretaking that stunts the natural growth of the child. Children must be able to begin to take care of themselves at a certain age. “Doing everything for your kids is actually a toxic parenting behaviour,” Dr Greenberg explains.

“This gives them the message that you don’t think that they are competent and prevents them from developing skills.” As children are able, they should be given age-appropriate tasks, such as feeding the family pet, or helping with the laundry. Your child’s birth order can contribute to varying personality traits and tendencies, so you may have a different approach with each child.

Bad parenting trait #11: you take your child’s behaviour personally

Hearing your child tell you they don’t like you (or worse!) for the first time is hard for every parent. You’ve fed, loved and cared for this tiny being since they existed, and it’s hard to hear anything but words of adoration out of those sweet little mouths. While it can sting, it is perfectly natural and a part of a child’s development to assert their independence and separation from parents.

Toxic parents tend to take this natural part of growing up personally and take the criticism to heart. This can cause toxic parents to behave immaturely toward their children and hold grudges, give guilt trips, or even give the silent treatment. If you find yourself taking your child’s behaviour personally and then reacting irrationally, you might consider speaking with a therapist to explore your own issues that are triggering such a response.