The word “toxic” is on everyone’s lips: it is intended to describe behavior or people that can be harmful, hurtful, or dangerous to others. As parents, we can also be toxic to our children through certain behaviors. We are not always aware of this. It can therefore help to question yourself and your behavior from time to time.
We are not only parents, we were also children once and were shaped by our own parents. So, just like our children today, we copied a lot of behavior from our parents or they exemplified it for us. It is therefore quite normal that our upbringing style is also based on that of our own parents. If we ourselves had toxic parents, it is not surprising if we repeat some of them.
You often only realize this when you have children of your own. If our parents set an example for us with problematic behavior, we often cannot help but repeat it. We don’t want to point fingers here, we want to show how behavior affects children.
In this way, it is possible to recognize yourself in one or the other situation and to reconsider certain actions. It starts with toddlers and doesn’t end with schoolchildren.
#1 Be extremely critical of your child
Your child is a good student, but it just doesn’t work in two subjects despite learning. You then react very annoyed and there are “penalties” if the child brings home a grade worse than 3?
It is absolutely correct that we as parents also have a responsibility for school success and have to support the child in learning. But don’t set your bar too high: were you good in all subjects? Does the child really have to have a grade point average everywhere, which you perhaps never achieved back then?
You probably had overly critical parents yourself. Put yourself in the position of how you felt then, then you will understand your child much better.
If it hides certain things out of fear of your reaction, learning success will not come any faster.
#2 Rarely listening to the child properly
The key to good communication is listening and taking the other person seriously. Even very small children have something to tell us. It starts with facial expressions and gestures. Many children’s tantrums in everyday life could be avoided if we listened properly.
Do you know that feeling of picking up your children from the daycare center after a hard day at work and somehow being in a bad mood is inevitable, your nerves get high over the smallest thing. In such moments, loving listening is very difficult.
Take a deep breath, and maybe have a drink. Take time out in the evening before bed and review the day and then listen to what the child has to say. You can always explain to your kids why you’re stressed, so they don’t feel like they did anything wrong. With their reactions, stressed parents often give their children the feeling that something is to blame.
#3 Not taking kids seriously
Of course, children are not adults yet and you communicate with them differently. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take children seriously. Above all, we should acknowledge their feelings and not simply push them away by saying “Don’t be so stupid”.
Even if you can’t understand the three- to five-year-old’s completely exaggerated outburst of anger: Show him that it’s okay with a hug or a personal gesture (as long as your child tolerates touching at such moments). This can be just as effective on little wusses as it is on sulking teenagers.
pediatrician dr Harvey Karp consistently emphasizes in his books that the first step in calming a toddler is to take their feelings seriously. He gives the tip: The first repeat verbally why the child is angry or sad and calms it down by touching it. In this way, they also learn to describe their own feelings. After that, it will be more willing to accommodate you. The doctor calls this the “fast food rule,” which he describes with examples in his book The Happiest Toddler in the World.
Toddlers have a talent for enraging us. Their behavior can trigger strong, often irrational, overreactions in us. Sometimes we get so angry that we literally can’t think straight and control what we say. And the more stressed we are, the more wild and boisterous we become ourselves.
Harvey Karp, pediatrician and author
#4 Thinking the kids are like you
Toxic parents often think their kids will like whatever they like. This can also be the case in part. However, your child is an individual with their own feelings, preferences, and interests. Of course, it’s wonderful when you see that a child loves football as much as you do.
But please don’t be disappointed if this phase passes and your child later does a lot of things that you can’t understand at all.
It is an independent human being and makes its own experiences and mistakes. You should take your child seriously and accompany them in becoming what they want.
This also includes allowing him to do things that you might not be able to do yourself. And if they don’t want to learn an instrument and prefer to play basketball, then that’s totally okay. Let’s not mistake our kids for mini-mes!
#5 Projecting your own unfulfilled desires and negative feelings onto your offspring
This also includes not projecting everything that you could not achieve in your own life onto your children: the children are not there to make our unlived dreams come true or to achieve unachieved goals.
Children who pursue the same profession as their parents are sometimes over-ambitious and have the feeling that they have to prove something to their parents for the rest of their lives. Toxic parents give their offspring exactly that feeling.
It’s perfectly fine for your children to voluntarily emulate you and share your passion, but only as long as they enjoy it. That stops when ambition takes over and they suffer from not being the best at everything.
This also applies to negative emotions or fears. Just because you are afraid of something doesn’t mean your child is afraid of it. Let them explore the world freely and independently and don’t constantly circle above them as a helicopter.
#6 Put yourself first
Of course, every parent knows that children demand a lot of attention. Finding time for yourself with all this is not so easy. But personal time-outs are incredibly important so that our family batteries are recharged.
However, this becomes a permanent problem if the parents’ needs are always the focus of all planning. You like to eat late and love long evenings in the restaurant, but your child gets tired quickly in the evening and whines terribly?
Then it should fall asleep in the buggy, you think. You accept the fact that it might wake up again on the way home and be all the more excited at home.
You can see it that way, but for the sake of your child, you can simply plan your day so that it suits everyone and, in that case, eat dinner a little earlier and put the child to sleep at home in familiar surroundings. This is usually the healthiest sleep.
If such behavior affects the whole personality, it is also referred to as “narcissistic”: Narcissistic mothers or fathers harm their children in the long term because they cannot form a normal bond. This behavior is also very toxic for children.
In all of this, never forget: children grow and at some point, they will be older and you will have more time for yourself again.
#7 Using verbal violence in everyday life
Children of all ages can sometimes drive us insane. Especially when we ourselves are still stressed and don’t have the best nerves, one thing quickly leads to another and it can escalate. A louder word can occur in every family.
Toxic parents are constantly talking loudly and aggressively to each other: This causes a lot of psychological stress for everyone. There is no ultimate solution to this and it can happen occasionally, but it shouldn’t become a habit.
If your temper is hot-tempered, you probably inherited it from your parents. So it wouldn’t be a surprise if sooner or later your child started talking to you in the same aggressive way.
Parents don’t want to yell at their toddlers, but sometimes the anger erupts in us completely unexpectedly. I don’t want you to ignore your feelings, but it’s just not okay to explode in front of your child. Your toddler has no choice but to act impulsively, but you do have a choice. It is your responsibility to do your utmost to never attack your child with physical violence or hurtful words.
Dr, Harvey Karp, The Happiest Toddler Alive
We don’t want to pigeonhole anyone or label you as “toxic parents”. Such titles rarely help. Many readers will recognize one or the other behavioral pattern in themselves. However, if you notice a lot of it in you and you feel overwhelmed with your family situation, then you better get help. You are not alone in this and it is never too late to start working on it.
When children grow from toddler to school age, communication is also a challenge. A few tips on how best to proceed as a parent now:
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