Author and therapist Susan Forward defines a toxic parent as one who "assaults a child's dignity, self-respect, confidence, appearance, and intelligence." We hate to think we can be abusive in any way; we often imagine abuse as something physical. But our words can hurt our kids as much.
Here are ways that can create an emotionally toxic environment for your child:
1. You always yell at your child. If you always find yourself shouting at your child for the simplest reasons, you may need to evaluate what's making you react this way. Not only are you not setting a good example, you are teaching your kids that yelling or even cursing is the best way to manage conflicts, says marriage and family specialist Kingsley Grant.
Adapt mindful parenting ways: Learn to look at your emotions and identify and understand them so you can better relate to others. There is this wonderful "hair tie" trick this mom does to keep her cool (read more here). If it fails (which means you ended up yelling), psychologist Dr. John Gottman advises parents to make it a point to reconnect with your child after the incident. Give her a hug, tell her a funny story, ask her if she wants to play, join her as she finishes a coloring book, among others.
2. Your child often sees you crying. We are supposed to tell our kids, "It's okay to cry when you feel hurt." When we let him do so and we acknowledge his feelings, we're helping our toddler manage his emotions. But when our child at a young age often sees us weep, we put him in a situation that forces him to "grow up" when he may not be developmentally ready. It is difficult for him to understand or handle it because he is still learning about his emotions.
If he catches you crying, make sure to comfort him and explain the tears as best as you can. Make sure your kids know they lean on you and not the other way around.
3. You impose your dreams. It's normal to hope that your child takes after you or continue your legacy. It's another issue, however, when you force it upon him. It may signify that that his interests, desires, and needs are not important. He may even feel that he owes you and is forced to live a life that's not his own.
A parent's role is to raise independent and productive adults. Let your child make his decisions. If you see lots of talent or potential in your kid, help hone his skills, guide his choices, and support him in what he wants to do and achieve. Stop trying to live your life through him.
4. You hover. If you do everything for your child, he won't learn the skills he'll need to thrive. Research shows that kids who are overly dependent on their parents or have parents who are always rescuing them are more likely to have relationship problems or depression. (Here are some signs you're overparenting.)
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Choose to be the loving and caring parent who still has the wisdom and strength to know when to let go. Be supportive, but not controlling. Besides, letting your child take risks and make mistakes create teaching opportunities that you can use to help them learn life lessons.
5. You praise your child the wrong way. Do you find yourself always criticizing your child or her work? If you notice that you're always not happy with his homework, always feeling the need to ask them to do it again or maybe doing it again yourself, then you might be telling your child that he and his work and efforts are not enough.
Giving praise is tricky, but if done right, it can be very helpful. Carol Dweck, Ph.D., says praising our kid's efforts and hard work helps them develop a growth mindset. It's how they can learn and improve. If you have to criticize, be honest, but make sure they're constructive and always emphasize how much you value their hard work.
6. You use hurtful words. It may start as an endearing joke, but habitually calling your child names is not a good idea. "Children take words to heart especially from the adults they love," writes Karen Stephens, author of the book The Child Care Professional. Saying your daughter is tabachoy or your son is tamad affects their self-esteem.
The inner voice in your child will consist of words he hears from you. The box or stereotype you put them in limits your child's potential. Take a pause and think about what you're going to say, and always choose your words carefully.
7. You don't listen to your child. If your child says you never listen, it can mean you hear your child's words, but you fail to understand what he's trying to communicate to you, parent coach and co-founder at Impact ADHD Elaine Taylor-Klaus tells SheKnows. If he complains of an issue repeatedly, it can mean you're not addressing his concerns or failing to provide solutions to eliminate the root of the issue. It may come from a traditional style of authoritative parenting: "I'm the parent so I'm right and you're wrong."
One simple trick to show you are listening is to kneel or squat down to his eye level when you speak with him. You show that you’re giving him your full attention, and it signals you’re willing and ready to engage with him. It also helps him feel safer and more in control.
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On a last note, you probably tells your kids "I love you" every day, but love can be expressed in many ways. Admitting and apologizing when you make mistakes can show your child your love. Discover your child's love language, so you can adequately express to him how much you love him in a way that he notices and appreciates more.