Seven Toxic Parental Behaviors

Without realizing it, many parents can demonstrate toxic behaviors with their children.
Seven Toxic Parental Behaviors
Bernardo Peña

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Bernardo Peña.

Last update: 13 January, 2023

Although every parent tries to educate as best they can, there are certain toxic behaviors we might carry out without even realizing it. We’ll tell you about them in this article.

Children often copy their parents’ behaviors. Therefore, it’s important to recognize any problem behaviors and make any necessary changes so that, in the future, the parent/child relationship improves.

Toxic parental behaviors

Good intentions alone aren’t enough. In fact, self-criticism is necessary to detect the kinds of ‘toxic’ parental behaviors that affect children.

Let’s see what these behaviors are and how they appear.

1. Being hypercritical

One toxic parental behavior is being hypercritical.
Being overly demanding causes insecurities in children in respect of their potential and abilities.

Although pointing out mistakes can help children change and realize their mistakes, continual criticism doesn’t guarantee any further improvement. Quite the opposite.

The goal is to find balance. Being overly demanding causes insecurities in children in respect of their potential and abilities.

Like this article? You might also like to read: The Keys to Promoting Self-Esteem in Children

2. Punishing negative emotions

We tend to distinguish between positive and negative emotions. In addition, it’s common to think that negative emotions aren’t helpful when, in fact, it’s exactly the opposite. For example, there’s more than one situation in which fear can save your life.

boy crying with dad pointing finger at him, parenting
Children should be allowed to cry and show their sadness.

Part of a child’s development involves them being able to express their emotions. Therefore, they should be allowed to cry and show their sadness. If they’re afraid, they should be encouraged to show that as well. Repressing emotions is never a good thing as, sooner or later, it produces greater discomfort.

You may also like to read this article: Teach Your Children How to Control Their Emotions

3. Deciding for them

Children are children, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have their own say or vote. Obviously, there are certain decisions in which parents have to intervene, but it won’t always be necessary and they can often decide for themselves.

Studies, such as the one conducted by Arantxa Gorostiaga et al, found that parenting styles that favor autonomy are associated with less anxiety in adolescents, which sheds light on this particular issue.

4. Instilling fear

Without a doubt, growing up in an environment of tranquility and trust helps children feel safe and motivates them to explore the world around them in a healthy way.

On the other hand, if they feel constantly anxious in their environment, they’ll tend to have fewer opportunities to experiment and feel secure. 

5. Blaming them for our own frustrations

Sometimes, parents take out their own frustrations on their kids, making them feel culpable for things that aren’t their responsibility at all.

If parents are able to foresee and prevent this issue, the happier their children will be in the future.

6.  Imposing conditional love

A mother and daughter talking.
Boundaries promote the ability of children to adjust to other situations outside the home and avoid possible behavioral problems.

The love we feel for our children is the most innate and natural feeling in the world. Furthermore, children should be loved regardless of their achievements or actions.

Indeed, children deserve to be loved for their own sake without any conditions being imposed on them to receive that love.

You might be interested in reading: The Effects of Parental Rejection on Children

7. Not setting boundaries

Sometimes, parents decide not to set boundaries for their children. However, these have an educational purpose and are essential.

Boundaries promote the ability of children to adjust to other situations outside the home and avoid possible behavioral problems. This is confirmed in a study conducted by the Faculty of Psychology of the University of Seville .

Toxic parents are overprotective

When parents are overprotective toward their children, it affects their family dynamics, including their relationship with their partner. However, it mostly affects their children’s socialization. For example, with their peers when playing group games and in their school relationships with their peers or teachers.

Parents who overprotect their children both restrict and alter their optimal development. Among the types of parents who act in this way, are the so-called ‘bankers’, who try to fix everything with money.

There are also the parents who parade their children as projections of themselves. In these cases, they want their children to fulfill their own ambitions that they were unable to, for whatever reason. This subjects the children to many pressures. “You’re going to be what I couldn’t be” is the kind of phrase that resonates within this kind of conflictive relationship.

Then there are the helicopter parents, who hover over their children, defending them to the death and seeing them as infallible and incapable of making mistakes. In fact, they place them on a pedestal. However, far from making them more visible, the children are barely seen as they’re unable to do anything for themselves.

Other types of parents that generate toxic relationships are the Black Hawk kind who adopt an aggressive attitude in order to take advantage of their children. There are also the ‘curling’ parents who, as in the sport, sweep away the obstacles that appear along the way, achieving the opposite effect. In fact, by avoiding difficulties, they erase them, causing confusion in the children.

This occurs in ‘superhero’ type parents who try to fix any conflictive situation, but only end up feeding their own egos.

These overprotective behaviors make parents hopelessly “toxic.”

What can be learned from these toxic parenting behaviors?

If you’ve identified some of these toxic behaviors in your own parenting, perhaps it’s time to stop and reflect.

Start to adopt healthier attitudes. They’ll improve the self-esteem and emotional balance of your children.

Remember, the children of today are the adults of tomorrow.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Ballesteros-Moscosio, M. Á. (2017). Padres y madres sobreprotectores: el reto de la escuela y los docentes. Diálogo: Familia Colegio, 328, 22-28.
  • Bi, X., Yang, Y., Li, H., Wang, M., Zhang, W., & Deater-Deckard, K. (2018). Parenting Styles and Parent-Adolescent Relationships: The Mediating Roles of Behavioral Autonomy and Parental Authority. Frontiers in Psychology9, 2187.
  • Fuentes, M. C., García-Ros, R., Pérez-González, F., & Sancerni, D. (2019). Effects of Parenting Styles on Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Stress in Spanish Adolescents. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health16(15), 2778.
  • Gorostiaga, A., Aliri, J., Balluerka, N., & Lameirinhas, J. (2019). Parenting Styles and Internalizing Symptoms in Adolescence: A Systematic Literature Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health16(17), 3192.
  • Kuppens, S., & Ceulemans, E. (2019). Parenting Styles: A Closer Look at a Well-Known Concept. Journal of Child and Family Studies28(1), 168–181.
  • Lorence, B., Hidalgo, V., Pérez-Padilla, J., & Menéndez, S. (2019). The Role of Parenting Styles on Behavior Problem Profiles of Adolescents. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health16(15), 2767.
  • Ong, M. Y., Eilander, J., Saw, S. M., Xie, Y., Meaney, M. J., & Broekman, B. (2018). The influence of perceived parenting styles on socio-emotional development from pre-puberty into puberty. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry27(1), 37–46.
  • Parra, Á., Sánchez-Queija, I., García-Mendoza, M., Coimbra, S., Egídio Oliveira, J., & Díez, M. (2019). Perceived Parenting Styles and Adjustment during Emerging Adulthood: A Cross-National Perspective. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 16(15), 2757.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.