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Parents are the first teachers children learn from. It’s crucial for your child to grow up in a safe, loving environment so they can develop the right socio and emotional skills needed to thrive.

But parenthood isn’t easy and sometimes, without realising we do more damage to our kids’ mental health than we know.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few toxic behaviours you might be engaging in without realising:

Shaming and Sarcasm

Shame has profound effects on our sense of self-worth, and even isolated incidents of shame can live long in our memories. In toxic parenting, shame is used repeatedly by a parent to discipline or demoralise a child in both home-based and public settings.

This is often devastating to a child’s self-esteem, and the effects of this can persist well into adulthood.

Sarcasm in parenting can also be part of shaming. It is humour with a bite, and in toxic parenting, it is the child that gets bitten. Consistent patterns of sarcastic behaviour often leave children feeling hurt, ashamed, and like their feelings or frustrations don’t matter. 

Refusing Responsibility

Another pattern of toxic parenting behaviour is a regular lack of acceptance of personal responsibility. This can include refusals to own up to mistakes, take part in normal parenting activities, or acknowledge poor reactions or behaviour.

With this type of toxic parenting, blame for such bad behaviour is usually shifted onto the child. Some examples of this are:


  • “The whole reason we got lost is because you wouldn’t be quiet while I was driving. It’s your fault.”
  • “Why should I help you with your homework? That’s your business, I have nothing to do with that.”
  • “If you hadn’t made me so mad, I wouldn’t have smacked you. It’s you who needs to change!”

Endless Arguing

Hashing out differences with a spouse is a normal part of a relationship, and when done in the right way, can set up a strong example for children on how to handle conflict and disagreement.

 Unfortunately, in toxic parenting, parents tend to have bitter, nasty, destructive arguments that often occur right in front of the kids.

Whether it’s an unbridled screaming match or a hostile round of the silent treatment, the result is not only a persistent high-stress environment that draws children into unproductive arguments as well, but a terrible model for communicating differences.

Keeping Secrets

Abuse and dysfunction thrive in secrecy and denial, and so it’s little surprise that this behaviour is a hallmark of toxic parenting. Children may be told to keep secrets about something abusive that was done to them, or about something they have seen or heard that was problematic.

For example, children may be told not to tell another person that they saw their parents drinking or using drugs, or that they saw a parent engaged in an affair. In a situation where a child was abused, they may be told not to tell anyone else and “just forget about it.”

Secrets such as these force children to go along with things that they can often sense are wrong and destructive, and exposes them to further harm.


Treating Kids Like Adults

In this type of toxic parenting, the boundaries that ensure positive expressions of individuality and a feeling of security in families are gone, leaving kids to support their parents emotionally.

Also known as enmeshment or “covert incest,” parents task their children with making decisions or weighing in on adult issues, discuss inappropriate topics, and fail to recognise a child’s need for space and independence within the family unit.

In cases where parents are mentally ill or have substance abuse disorder, children may also be responsible for ensuring a parent eats, showers, or goes to work.

This puts a tremendous amount of stress on the child and can hamper their own personal development, and can lead to dysfunctional and co-dependent relationships with others as adults.

Forbidding Kids to Have Their Own Feelings

Not allowing children to express their feelings, or belittling their feelings, is another seriously damaging form of toxic parenting. This type of toxic parenting can come out in statements like:

  • You’re not really upset over not going to your friend’s house, you are just trying to make me feel bad.
  • No one cares that you are sad, so stop crying.
  • I wasn’t asking for your opinion. We are doing things my way.


These are a few toxic behaviours parents should avoid if they want to raise their kids in a healthy, loving environment.

Phil O'Neill recounts his childhood memories and growing up in a family that was related to Dennis O’Neill, the inspiration behind Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap”. It’s a tragic tale of a young boy who lost his life at the hands of his foster parents. Phil believes this had an impact on the family’s mental well-being and could have been the reason for his own mental health problems.

He expresses himself through  poetry and tells readers about his own struggles in his book, “Poems From the Unconscious” which will s????



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