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15 Signs of a Bad Parent Traumatizing Their Kids

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Embarking on parenthood rarely involves an intentional desire to be a “neglectful parent.” As parents, we all like to think we’re doing what’s best for our kids.

Unfortunately, real life can be different than our expectations. Our past life experiences and current parental circumstances significantly influence our daily interactions with our children- for better or worse. Unintentionally, we may engage in actions that inadvertently cause harm, leaving lasting emotional wounds.

A popular forum discussed signs of a bad parent; here are the top 15 responses. (Note: this post is not meant to shame parents but rather provide valuable insight for reflection.)

1. Using Your Child as a Therapist

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Some topics and emotions are just too heavy for a young developing child. Unloading adult-sized problems and experiences on a little one can be very stressful, especially since they don’t know what to do with this kind of information. Kids are trying to figure out how to regulate their own emotions, and helping their parents regulate theirs is too much for them.

One online forum user writes that her mom would tell her some pretty heavy stuff about her childhood, even at six. Other users agreed and commented on how it affected their own ability to regulate their emotions and understand their place in the world.

This doesn’t mean that you have to pretend everything is fine all the time around kids. But omitting parts they don’t understand or just explaining an emotion is enough for them.

2. Avoiding the Word “No”

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Some parents grew up under very strict parents themselves. For some, this means they now want to avoid such strictness with their kids, even if it means never saying “no” and getting walked all over.

One writer is confused about why some parents fear the word “no.” Sure, in some contexts, it’s better to redirect kids, but being told no is a reality that they will have to deal with at some point in their lives.

Establishing healthy and meaningful boundaries with kids is important.

3. Not Having Contact with Adult Children

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Both parents and kids agree that if a child doesn’t want to have anything to do with their parents as an adult- it’s probably the parent’s fault. The child likely felt pushed away due to some kind of trauma (too much pressure/high expectations), physical or mental abuse, etc.).

One writer says, “Yeah, it took me awhile to understand that me wanting to go no contact with my parents is a failure on their part. Not mine.”

4. Acting Like a Child is an Inconvenience

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It can be heartbreaking to see a parent disregard their child- showing little interest in them and getting annoyed when they are inconvenienced. When a child asks for something or wants to spend quality time with their parent, an eye roll, sigh, or yell will hurt their self-esteem and make them feel unloved.

One writer notes that this often can lead to violence to get the kid to “shut up” when they’re trying to get more attention.

A child deserves to know their time is worth something in the eyes of their parents.

5. Invalidating a Child’s Feelings

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We all deal with emotions and struggles differently. Making a child feel like the way they experience the world is wrong is hard on their confidence and will make it hard for them to cope appropriately.

One user explains this perfectly: “Invalidating your child’s feelings, struggles, and/or mental illness in favor of “you don’t know what struggling really is” or some form of “back in my day” or “you kids are so weak.”

You have just robbed your child of support, told them their feelings do not matter, and informed them that you are not a safe person to confide in.”

6. Not Willing to Apologize

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No one is perfect, and this is a great lesson for kids, particularly from their parents. When parents try to stay on their high horse, even when they’re clearly wrong, it can damage their kids.

On the other hand, being able to apologize is huge for helping kids learn to navigate life purposefully. They will learn it’s okay to make mistakes and have humility when they admit what’s wrong.

7. Your Child is Afraid

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No child should be afraid of the people who are supposed to be their caretakers- whether it’s mom, dad, or both. Parents are meant to protect and love their children from the rest of the world. So what happens when they make a child the most anxious?

A few writers said they were afraid of their dads as kids and didn’t realize it was weird until later in life. This had repercussions on their mental health.

8. Blowing Off Stressful Events

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Sadly, when kids who are abused (sexually, physically, mentally, etc.) finally confide in their parents about it- bad parents blow them off and tell them not to make such a big deal out of it. In reality, it’s a huge deal and it took a lot of guts for them to speak up. Next time, the child likely won’t say anything, perpetuating a cycle of abuse that they can’t excape.

One writer said that her mom harshly said she “asked for it” when she was abused as a toddler.

9. Constant Yelling

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Parents can sometimes get carried away in the heat of the moment (at which point they should apologize). But some users recall being yelled at for every trivial thing or for no reason at all because the parent was in a bad mood.

“Yelling at a kid is traumatic for the kid. Don’t do it. There are better ways to communicate than yelling,” said one.

10. Making Mean Comments

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Some parents seem to hold a grudge against their kids for existing. No matter what they do, their parents have a snide comment or judgment to make about it. This can feel deflating to a little person trying to navigate their way through life.

One user writes, “saying things like “you’re such a disappointment” “I wish I had a daughter instead” “you ruined my and you’re mother’s sex life” this is stuff I heard for years.”

11. Zero Interest

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Sadly, some kids can feel like shadows in their own homes. If they ask for anything, they get yelled at. So, they learn to keep their needs and worries to themselves, living as quietly as possible.

Someone writes, “Zero interest in the kid. Doesn’t care what they do or what happens to them as long as they don’t inconvenience them.”

12. Violence

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Of course, physical abuse is a sign of a terrible parent. If you worry about losing your temper around your kids, it’s best to seek medical help asap.

Someone writes, “I volunteer at/ have had student placements at a children’s hospital and we’ve had patients with serious brain injuries due to abuse (shaking, attempted drowning, etc.). So yeah, I’d say those parents are pretty bad.”

13. Do What I Say

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Not allowing kids to make their own choices or forcing them to do certain activities because you think it’s good for them or want to live vicariously through them will always backfire at some point. It’s best to let kids make their own mistakes and learn how to navigate their decision-making skills.

Yelling at a child to enjoy an activity or threatening them to do something “or else” will never make it enjoyable for them.

14. Narcissistic Parenting

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When a parent goes to great lengths to comfort themselves at the expense of their child, this is never a good sign. They constantly gaslight their child, making them feel like everything they do is wrong and their fault. They also start questioning their perception of reality as their parents try to change a story or experience to fit their needs.

Dealing with this type of confusion as a child will definitely haunt them into adulthood, making it hard to trust other people or develop healthy relationships.

15. High Anxiety

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When there is constant tension, yelling, shaming, etc… this can lead to high anxiety for all family members, the offending parent and the child. When constant negativity is the norm in a household, it results in everyone shutting down and feeling like victims.

Changing this narrative starts with making baby steps toward a more positive environment.


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