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Is Negative Parenting Reversible?

What type of job is parenting?

Without a doubt, parenting is one of the hardest jobs out there. It can be rewarding, frustrating, exciting, and challenging all at the same time.
As a parent, you might question yourself daily about whether you’re making the right decisions, if your kids will be OK, and what you could have done differently.

(Stiles, 2022)

How did we learn how to parent?

Some of us may have babysat or worked as camp counselors when we were teens. A few of us may have read a parenting book or taken a parenting class prior to having children. 

But most of us simply winged it from what we observed or experienced. Our primary parenting teachers were our own parents. You may think you didn’t turn out too badly and you probably didn’t. First-hand you learned what parents did.  However, today there are more effective methods. Did you ever say you would never do something your parents did but realize you are doing that very thing?

What types of behaviors constitute negative parenting?

  • Physical abuse: hitting, spanking, injuring, any type of physical harm
  • Verbal abuse:  yelling, name-calling, cursing, berating 
  • Sexual abuse:  molestation, inappropriate media
  • Domestic violence:  among adults or children in the home
  • Emotional abuse:  shame and blame, incessant reprimands, repeated criticism
  • Behaviors, such as Munchausen by Proxy that retard child development

Did you know too little or too much parenting can also be negative?

Some parents just neglect their children. They may have difficulty balancing expectations of work. They may feel drained from the demands of running the daily household while dealing with sibling rivalry or comments about being bored. Television and technological games become babysitters. 

Children may end up feeling ignored, thinking they are a burden, not worthy of attention, even feeling unloved and unlovable. This can lead to a sense of insecurity and low self-esteem. 

When parents are too involved, children’s emotional growth can be stunted. If they hover over their children, children may be afraid to fully express themselves and develop their unique self-concept, skills, interests and preferences. They may want to please so much that they deny their own happiness and pleasures. 

What is the result of negative parenting?

Basically, even if parents are well-meaning, poor parenting can backfire. Children who are raised this way are likely to withdraw or rebel, neither of which will serve them well in life. These feelings may affect them throughout adulthood. As a worst-case scenario, they may resort to antisocial behaviors. 

Children need limits, boundaries and structure. They need loving guidance and logical, realistic discipline. This imparts caring, respect and valuing. They need the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and how to make amends. This helps prepare them for the adult world.

Is it possible to undo damage?

As a psychologist, I believe in change. Parents may feel regret, remorse and shame from their negative parenting. However, with hard work and introspection, I am confident new ways can be learned. 

In therapy, parents can learn the triggers behind why they parented negatively. They can acquire the skills to be able to show interest in their children by truly listening. They can establish sensible structure.

And perhaps most important, parents can learn to express love and affection.

Medically reviewed by Akilah Reynolds, PhD — By Katie Stiles — Updated on July 26, 2022 on PsychCentral website.