Bad parenting is rarely something we are unaware of. Instead, on a certain level, we know we are being unkind, manipulative, thoughtless, or even dangerous towards our children.

What is bad parenting, and what can you do if you are caught up in it?

Bad parenting defined

Bad parenting is the same as any other kind of unhealthy relating. It means we are interacting with someone in ways that can harm them and also ourselves.

Bad parenting means that we are knowingly putting our child’s mental, emotional, or physical wellbeing at risk.

What are signs of bad parenting?

There are obvious signs of bad parenting we all know, such as:

  • hurting or harming a child physically in any way
  • neglecting a child’s wellbeing and not meeting basic needs (food, clothing, sleep, etc)
  • allowing a child to witness violence or aggression
  • using punishment that is not deserved or far worse than necessary
  • any form of physical or sexual abuse, or allowing another to harm your child.

But what about the less obvious forms of bad parenting?

The hidden forms of bad parenting

The mental, emotional, and psychological ways to be a bad parent include:

  • taking out your bad moods on your children
  • humiliating, belittling, or mocking a child
  • denying a child a voice or say - controlling, oppressing, being overbearing
  • blocking your child from learning and growing as a person
  • refusing to listen to your child when they are trying to communicate or ignoring them
  • using love and attention as 'rewards' instead of rights
  • making no effort to set a good example for your child
  • spending money that is intended for your children
  • manipulating your child (making them wear clothes you know are uncomfortable, say things they don't want to, perform for others, etc.)
  • doing things you know leaves your child feeling scared or insecure (making them climb a tree if they don't want to, leaving them with strangers, etc.)
  • threatening to abandon your children (telling them you can’t afford them, or that you are going to give them away if them if they don’t do what you want…etc.)
  • refusing to show your child love
  • prioritising one sibling over the other
  • not spending any time with your child
  • speaking about him or her like they are not there
  • treating your child like they are lesser than you, a sibling, and/or their peers.

Attachment Theory - the recipe for good parenting

'Attachment theory' is an established and highly researched psychological theory that states that--

-- for a child to grow up into a healthy, functioning adult, they don’t just need food, clothes, and shelter. They need to know that there is at least one caregiver in their life that they can trust to love, accept, and take care of them no matter what.

No matter what their behaviour, thoughts, emotions, or moods. No matter their grades, behaviours, and actions.

This means good parenting involves:

  • always making sure your child feels safe
  • being someone they can trust implicitly
  • accepting your child for who they are, and at all times.

It doesn't mean you can't disagree with your child, or that there can't be consequences if they make bad choices. It just means that your child making mistakes does not jeopardise any of the above.

But I give my child everything!

Just because you offer your child a nice home, nice clothes, every toy they want, and drive them to after-school lessons does not make you a good parent. The ingredients above must be present.

And alternately, if you are reading this article because you worry that your child will suffer because you don't have a lot of money, or are a single parent? Take a deep breath. As long as you are providing your child with that safety, trust, and love? You are doing a great job.

Why am I a bad parent?

Telling yourself you are a bad parent because you are a bad person is not only not useful, it’s not true. Parenting does not come with a manual. And very few people consciously set out to be a bad parent.

We end up a bad parent because, for the most part, we were the victim of bad parenting ourselves. Even if we promised we’d never be like our mother, father or caregiver, there we are, screaming at at our child like we were screamed at, punishing our child for no reason just like we were.

Bad parenting can also be informed by unresolved past childhood trauma. If, for example, you were sexually abused as a child, your own kid’s requests for love and protection can trigger unresolved fury that you yourself were not protected and loved.

I know it’s wrong, but I just can’t stop…..

Like any kind of relationship drama, bad parenting can be addictive. We might be addicted to the cortisol rush of all our yelling. We can be addicted to the feeling of power we get when we force a child to do something they don't want to, particularly if we feel powerless in other areas of our life, like our careers.

Or we can be in an addictive cycle where we ‘misbehave’ as parents to receive the ‘forgiveness’ of our child, triggering the reward centres of our brain and leaving us on a dopamine loop.

I want to stop being a bad parent, what do I do?

Admitting there is a real problem is of course the first step. You might want to try talking to someone you trust, getting your worries out in the open.

Education is also key. Learn about what good parenting looks like, how you can communicate with your child better, read books and join forums.

And finally, seek support. One of the best ways to work on your parenting skills is to work on yourself and your unresolved issues and behaviours.

And this is best done with the support and unbiased help of a counsellor or psychotherapist. He or she will create a safe space for you to unload your feelings of guilt and shame over bad parenting, then help you troubleshoot what is going wrong and learn new key skills for becoming a better parent.

Are you ready to seek help to finally be the parent your kids deserve? And talk to someone who won't judge you, but will just help you? Find and book registered therapist who understands now, and you'll be moving forward before you know it.

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