From the moment you are born, you get messages about who you are and how you should function in the world. Again, the bonds formed early with a child’s primary attachment figures have a tremendous influence on how she will form relationships with others. As she develops, she forms her identity from the messages she gets from her parents and other influential people in her life. If these messages are frequently negative, her self-image begins to form in a different way. She feels unlovable, unworthy, and unimportant.
There are several types of toxic parenting. This term suggests that when a parent disciplines or interacts with her child, or if the parenting is regularly negative and unpleasant, it does not serve to encourage growth but rather is toxic or damaging.
Like it or not, most people have been exposed to toxic parenting by their parents. And as a result, you will likely expose your children to it. This doesn’t make you a bad parent, just a normal one who makes mistakes. The point here is to reduce the negative effects of your parenting and increase the positive ones!
You may have heard that a family can’t be too close. This is simply not true. There is a distinct and important difference between a close family and an abnormally rigid family. When the bonds of the family are so tight that they do not allow for relationships outside the family, or when the bonds foster too much dependency, this is known as enmeshment. Rather than encouraging a child to jump out into the world and experience it, this type of family communicates to the child that the world is not a welcome, safe place. Sometimes these boundaries are so rigid and impermeable that relationships with extended family members can’t even develop.
Absence of Emotional Expression
One type of toxic parenting is a family’s inability to express emotion. This is a family where parents have not learned to express their own emotions or it was unacceptable to do so as children. It is so uncomfortable for them to do this as an adult that it is not surprising that they cannot encourage their children to express feelings. As a result, the child is forced to keep her feelings to herself. Ultimately, she cannot find a way to alleviate the discomfort she is feeling, and depression occurs.
Another type of toxic parenting is poor consistency in setting limits. You’ve heard of the need for discipline to be stable, consistent, and fair. When the rules are constantly changing, unpredictability sets in.
Some parents allow themselves to be bullied by their children so that the rules do not have to be followed. Don’t fall for this! Even though they whine and complain, children report that they really do prefer to have rules and structure so that they know exactly what is expected of them.
When there is no order within the family, a child loses the ability to behave appropriately. The best she can do is to respond to whatever the rule is at the time.
Taking Criticism Too Far
While it is important to point out to their children the behaviors that are unacceptable, toxic parenting occurs when there is too much criticism. Often, parents get caught up in picking out all of their child’s faults rather than pointing out his strengths and talents. Because parents want to make sure that their children behave and fit in with their peers, the potential for becoming overly critical is a very real possibility.
The more negative messages a child receives about herself, the more at risk she becomes for depression. This is why it’s important to separate the behavior from the child when you are trying to discipline her.
Are you saying I should never criticize my child?
Of course there are times when your child needs direction and you may have to criticize her behavior. What you need to watch for is being overly critical such that all your child hears out of your mouth is what she is doing wrong.
Being Too Lenient
Just as being overly negative with a child can create depression, overindulging your child is also a form of toxic parenting. Most parents want to get their children everything that they wish for and to not deny them anything. However, when a child is overindulged, she begins to believe that this is how the world should treat her as well. As she begins to discover that she cannot always have her way, this can be upsetting and confusing to her. The best way to overcome this is by teaching her that while she is deserving of all the good things in life, there are limits, and she will have to work for some of the things that she wants.
Although family members are prone to tease one another, when the teasing becomes mean and overly critical, it is toxic. Many parents grew up in a family where teasing was as natural as breathing. They will say, “My brothers teased me all the time and I’ve turned out fine.” This does not mean it was necessarily a good thing. Good-natured ribbing amongst family members is a healthy way to bond and form close relationships. However, when the teasing becomes too personal and cruel, a child begins to feel unsafe, even in her own family. A child that receives this sort of teasing is likely to become a bully herself.
Parents often say they want their child to have a thick skin so that other’s teasing won’t bother him. Having a thick skin means a child doesn’t take himself so seriously and that he can laugh at himself. But bullying should not be tolerated at all.
Again, the negative messages that he receives about himself put him at risk for depression. Teasing should be gentle comments about a child’s behavior, habits, or characteristics. It should never be aimed at demeaning a child or making him feel self-conscious.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to protect your child from all of the evils in the world. You know, however, it is not possible to do this. Parents often try to excuse their overprotectiveness by insisting that they are merely watching out for their children.
Overprotectiveness becomes toxic when a child is sheltered so much that when she is out in the world, she has no idea of how to behave or interact. This is the child who typically becomes rebellious, and she may even begin to lie about her whereabouts so that she can do some of the things she wants.
Being so overprotective that a child cannot make some mistakes or experience life sets a child up for depression as she becomes more and more angry or resentful toward you.
In contrast to the overprotective parent, toxic parenting can also take the form of avoiding a child. When a child has problems such as depression, it is not unusual for even the best parent to wish to avoid the unpleasantness. In addition, most parents cannot stand to see their beloved children in pain. Often, the parent is so uncomfortable about what is happening that he simply does not know what to do. This type of extreme avoidance is more of a defense against a parent’s own insecurities and concerns. However, a child does not always understand this, therefore, she feels left out and ignored. These feelings ultimately result in a child who thinks that she is being a bother or that no one wants her around. Obviously, depression is not far behind.
Rules, Rules, and More Rules
Rules are important and there’s no getting around that fact. Too many rules, however, create a jail-like atmosphere in your home. Part of the child’s healthy development lies in his ability to make some choices and to make mistakes. Many of life’s lessons are learned this way. When there are too many rules, a child will either rebel or he does not learn how to handle himself in situations that are troublesome. There is so much structure that he does not have to use his head and merely operates as a robot.
Toxic parenting is something that most parents are guilty of at one time or another. The reason is because no one is perfect, and you operate as a result of how you grew up. However, too much toxic parenting can result in a child who feels unacceptable, inadequate, and unprepared to face the world. The resulting depressive symptoms can be devastating.
As an adult, you bring to your family the baggage that you had from your childhood. In addition, you cannot always correct or fix every problem that you may have. What’s important to understand is that your history and your problems can have an effect on your children as well as the possibility that he might develop depression. Working to minimize the impact of these issues is the most effective way to guard against that.