- It can be hard to know the long-term impact of your parenting decisions.
- Lying to your kids, not enforcing the rules, or being critical about your body can cause relationship problems between you and your children.
- Here are some ways you might be unknowingly be hurting your relationship with your children.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
The relationship between a parent and child can be a complicated one. It can sometimes feel impossible to balance the duties of parenthood with a desire to develop a positive, trusting, and happy connection with a child. That said, sometimes you might be damaging the bond between you and your kid without even realizing it.
Here are some ways that parents might be unknowingly sabotaging their relationship with their children.
You use white lies to protect or control your child
It can sometimes be tempting to lie to your child in order to manage their behavior or avoid a tough conversation, but according to the experts, telling white lies can oftentimes do more harm than good.
“Parents can inadvertently sabotage their relationship with their kids through telling white lies meant to protect their kids from the realities of life that may be scary,” psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman told INSIDER. “When kids find out the truth, they may feel [like they] can’t trust their parents to keep them safe.”
Ultimately, try to be honest with your children when possible and reasonable — it can likely help you avoid dealing with some issues related to trust.
You have inconsistent rules or unclear expectations
Clinical psychologist Dr. Sherrie Campbell told INSIDER that not enforcing rules consistently or never talking about your expectations can keep your child from knowing how to act appropriately.
“If you keep your children in a state of confusion and guessing about their responsibilities and boundaries, they will begin to act out to find the boundaries themselves. This can lead to many critical mistakes, low self-regard, and problematic behavior,” she said.
Defined expectations create the guidelines and boundaries necessary to help children succeed within their given roles as family members, students, friends, and citizens. Be sure you enforce household rules consistently and that your kids know what you expect of them to keep everyone in the family happy and accountable.
You speak negatively about your own body and the bodies of others
One way you may unknowingly be damaging your relationship with your child is by putting down your own body in front of them. Even if you never speak negatively about your child’s body, children are experts at picking up on implicit biases surrounding weight, size, or appearance. Eventually, this kind of self-criticism may erode a child’s confidence in their own body. It may even make them believe that love, especially your love for them, is tied to how they look.
“If you continually call yourself fat, complain about how you look in a bathing suit, or make jokes about overweight people on TV, then you are shaping how your children will ultimately feel about their own bodies,” licensed psychotherapist Christine Scott-Hudson told INSIDER. “Your child will quickly absorb and internalize the message you send about which bodies are worthy and which bodies are not.”
To avoid this, try to speak kindly about your body and other people’s bodies. In particular, Scott-Hudson recommended focusing on what your body can do rather than how it looks. In this way, your children can learn that positive body image is independent of a specific size or weight and that all bodies are good bodies.
You don’t tailor your discipline method to each individual child
Parenting isn’t one-size-fits-all and, as clinical psychologist and licensed family therapist Saniyyah Mayo told INSIDER, it’s important to tailor discipline styles to each individual child.
“The way you discipline a child is crucial to the relationship and a child’s development. One discipline method does not fit all, especially when you have multiple children. Children are individuals and respond to things differently,” she said.
For example, Mayo explained that speaking in a stern voice when disciplining one child may cause them to shut down emotionally or damage their self-esteem, whereas the same tactic may be an effective way to correct the behavior of a different child. Ideally, a discipline style should allow a kid to recognize what they’ve done wrong without damaging the parent-child relationship you share.
You constantly tell your child how they could improve
Part of parenting is pushing your child to succeed and live up to their potential. However, there’s a fine line between encouraging a child to do their best and perpetually critiquing their performance.
“Our inner critic is formed from the voices that we grow up around. So if a child has very critical parents, they’re going to end up with an especially harsh inner critic. This can cause big issues with self-esteem later in life and create feelings of resentment within the relationship,” consultant clinical psychologist Elena Touroni told INSIDER.
To avoid demoralizing your child, try to make a point of acknowledging their victories without immediately adding how you think they could improve or do even better next time.
You try to be their best friend
No matter how close a parent is to their child, family therapist and human-behavior expert Sophia Reed told INSIDER that it’s important to remember that being a good parent should supersede any desire to be a child’s best friend.
“Children need parents to teach them boundaries, rules, and the skills they need to be successful adults,” said Reed. “They can find friends at school. But at home, they need a parent and role model they can look up to.”
You imply they aren’t capable of achieving their goals
Whether your child dreams of building a ladder to the moon, writing a bestselling book of poetry, or making the school soccer team, it’s crucial that you support their aspirations rather than implying their goals are unreasonable.
“It is important that you believe in your child’s abilities and goals no matter how silly or absurd they may seem. All children want to feel that their dreams are important and validated by their parents, not dismissed,” said Reed.
Children can develop resentment toward parents who never encourage their dreams and they may distance themselves from the relationship when they feel misunderstood. Even if you don’t truly expect your child to achieve their goal, try nurturing their ambition by suggesting tangible steps they might take to realize their vision.
You dismiss or minimize their stress or anxiety
Campbell told INSIDER that ignoring or minimizing your children’s emotions can damage their willingness to connect with and trust you.
For example, dismissing your teenager’s anxiety about their school workload or your younger child’s sadness over the loss of a favorite toy can lead to missed opportunities to develop open and honest communication. Eventually, your child may learn to conceal their true emotions from you out of a fear of being judged or ignored.
Instead, make a point to listen to your child when they are upset so you can ensure they feel their emotions are validated and respected.
You openly criticize their other parent or siblings
Campbell explained that criticizing or insulting a child’s other parent or siblings in front of them can lead to some issues. If you openly complain to one child about their siblings, it’s natural for that child to wonder what you may secretly say about them to others. Similarly, putting down their other parent may make the child feel confused or obligated to choose sides.
To avoid creating this type of anxiety, keep negative thoughts regarding your child’s other parent or siblings to yourself.
You allow your child to feel responsible for your happiness
It’s perfectly normal for children to want to see their parents happy and feel as if they contribute to that happiness. But, as clinical psychologist and relationship counselor Michelle Fraley told INSIDER, it’s important that children don’t believe that a parent’s happiness and sense of well-being rests on them. This can cause the child to experience feelings of guilt and shame if they sense that their parent is unhappy.
“Parental well-being is too large of a burden for a child at any age to assume and parents must make that clear. Otherwise, a cycle of parental emotional distress followed by child guilt and shame may persist throughout the relationship, creating strain and boundary issues,” said Fraley.