5 Emotionally Harmful Things Parents do to Their Children Without Realizing It

Are you emotionally harming your child? “No, not me,” comes the inevitable answer. We all say it, but the truth is we all do things that are emotionally harmful to our children, and we often don’t even realize it.

Of course, there’s no handbook that tells you the do’s and don’ts of being the good parent, and we’re bound to make some mistakes.

However, what’s even more important is learning the things that we do do that can be potentially harmful, and reducing them in order to further the emotional, physical and mental health of our children.

Here are 5 of the most common emotionally harmful things parents do to their children without realizing it.

1) Labelling

On the better side of intentions, you may be labeling your child as something positive, like an ‘angel’ or the ‘perfect child’, and while these labels are of course far from being overtly negative, they can actually cause emotional damage in the long run.

How so? One word: expectation. Sure, you obviously don’t expect them to be ‘the perfect child’ and understand full-well that the term used is an obvious over-exaggeration and simple expression of your affection, but for your child it can become quite burdensome.

The more often these terms are used, the more deeply they insert themselves, and your little one could very well spend their lives trying to live up to it — and experiencing a world of disappointment and shame as a result. While you may believe you’re providing positive encouragement, you could be doing quite the opposite, because labels are limiting.

Even if you describe your children as ‘the athletic one’, or ‘the funny one’, it begins to set limits on what they believe they can be — or worse yet, what they should be, whether their personal proclivities reflect your labelling or not. They, in their minds, have now been categorized.

Instead, try to embrace their efforts and internal qualities as opposed to labeling them into being something

2) Comparison

You’ve said it before: “Why can’t you just do your homework quickly, like your brother?” or “I never have to ask your sister to clean up her toys.”

These seem like innocent comments or examples of ‘reverse psychology’, but they can actually be emotionally harmful to your child, as they encourage a fractured, competitive world-view and cause a feeling of inferiority.

This can also do harm to the sibling relationship and make the way for resentment to build. You never want one child to feel higher than the other, or worse, lower, and comparing your child to other children can encourage bad feelings while also causing more household arguments and contention.

Instead, try to eliminate comparative phrases such as “just like” from your sentences, and make an effort to stop pitting your children against one another, or other children, however subtle these things may be. Play to their strengths instead, and always try to reinforce the truth that it’s our individuality that makes true co-operation possible, not sameness.

3) Being Disappointed

Being disappointed in something your child did or didn’t do is completely normal. However, voicing that opinion can actually be more detrimental to your child and may even encourage the very behavior that you’re disappointed with.

While it is easy for us parents to believe that vocalizing our disappointment is something that will encourage them to improve, it actually encourages negative feelings and enhances the pressure they already feel to live up to the standards you’ve set (which often don’t have much to do with the child, and far more to do with the parent).

Instead, try asking your child how they feel about whatever it is you’re disappointed in, and take it from there. Let them be your guide in guiding them.

4) Providing ‘Constructive Criticism’

This is an emotionally harmful thing many parents do to children that, truth be told, can often be a hard nut to crack. Why? Because constructive criticism is something inevitable in life, and at one point, your child is going to have to learn how to take it.

But with kids, things are exaggerated. We often forget this as adults, having had many more years for our skins to thicken.

As with all things, it’s subjective. Use a little EQ and feel it out. When it’s obvious that the child’s full efforts were in play, it’s rare that criticism is needed — they did their best, and they know it. It’s also important to ask yourself, again, how much your criticism may to do with you, or what other people may think of you and/or your child, as opposed to how much it has to do with your child themselves. Work to put yourself in their shoes.

5) Showing Your Frustration

Frustration, of course, goes hand in hand with parenthood. You are bound to feel frustration and it is unfortunately extremely easy to take out those feelings out on your children, even if they have nothing to do with them.

However, showing your frustration and taking it out on your children can be emotionally harmful and put a dent in the bond you have. It’s alright if your kid knows you had a bad day, but it’s not alright to give them the feeling of having to walk on eggshells around you, fearing a possible outburst.

Instead, give yourself a ‘parent time out’. Cool off. Sort out where your frustrations lie, and don’t project them onto your children. 

Now that we’ve been through all that, give yourself a pat on the back! These are all minor things, and even if you’re guilty of all of them from time to time, you’re still doing a great job, believe me. This post was just meant as a light-hearted reminder to bring a little mindfulness back in.

As always, working on yourself is one of the best ways to inadvertently improve the emotional wellbeing of your child as well.