- Parenting styles can affect a child's personality development.
- Parents sometimes encourage children's unhealthy coping strategies.
- Encouraging children to avoid discomfort, and reinforcing their sense of being a victim, are unhealthy.
Whether or not an individual develops a personality disorder during the course of a lifetime is determined by many factors, including genetics and biology. The home environment and parenting can either increase or decrease the likelihood that a child will develop symptoms of personality disorder later in life. Following are three common parenting errors that increase the chance that a child will develop symptoms of a personality disorder. All of these errors come from parents erroneously attempting to help their children.
1. Not Holding a Child Responsible for Choices and Behaviors
Many parents, driven by empathy for their child, relieve their child of responsibility for errors that have been made. For example, one child asked her parents for a new cell phone. When she was told that she did not need a phone, because the one she had worked fine, she dropped the phone in the toilet and then it broke. She was then given a new cell phone.
School districts are very familiar with students doing poorly and blaming it on their teachers. The following dialogue is an example.
Dad: Brian, I heard from school that you are failing math. What’s going on?
Brian: The teacher is a jerk and he hates me.
Dad: What did you do to get him upset with you?
Brian: He hates all the boys and likes the girls better.
Dad: You should talk to him about your math difficulties.
Brian: He’s a jerk. He will just blow me off.
Dad: OK. I will speak to the principal and have you changed to a different class.
After speaking to the principal, Dad found out that Brian had not done any homework during this term and was failing for this reason. If Dad attempts to get the principal to change Brian’s math class anyway, he is choosing to be protective of his son rather than holding his son accountable for not doing his homework, getting a failing grade, and blaming the teacher. This pattern of blaming others rather than taking responsibility is a feature of Borderline and Narcissistic Personality Disorders, and Dad would be teaching Brian this form of coping.
A healthier approach for Dad would be to hold Brian responsible for his choices and behaviors; in this case, his choice to not do his homework. The dialogue might sound like this:
Brian: So, Dad, did you change my math class?
Dad: Brian, why didn’t you tell me that you were not handing in homework assignments before I met with your principal?
Brian: Oh, now you are blaming me?
Dad: I am just trying to understand why you chose not to do your homework.
Brian: I told you the teacher hates me.
Dad: Why is that a reason to not do your work?
Brian: Did you change the class?
Dad: No. You and I are going to meet with your teacher and the principal and figure out the next best steps.
Brian will not enjoy sitting down with his father, teacher, and principal, but he will learn how to take responsibility for his choices and his behaviors and find a constructive remedy. He will have the opportunity to do this in a supportive environment (school) with his father by his side. The lesson will serve him forever.
2. Encouraging Avoidance
Some parents teach kids avoidance as they try to protect their children from painful or uncomfortable situations. This often takes the form of making special accommodations for their child to avoid discomfort.
A common form is parents whose children express that they are not comfortable riding the bus to school. It could be because they don’t like the bus driver, or the other children, or the bus itself. Giving in to the child and driving him or her to school conveys to the child that they cannot tolerate uncomfortable situations that their peers are able to tolerate. They come to see themselves as rigid and unable to function in circumstances that are different from what they want or what they are used to. Individuals with obsessive-compulsive traits feature this rigidity.
A healthier approach is to encourage the child to either alter the situation or alter the perspective to reduce discomfort. An example of altering the situation would be for the child to take a different seat, or an earlier bus. If this is not possible, then the child can alter his or her perspective by viewing the bus ride as a chance to catch up on homework or sleep rather than feeling the need to engage socially.
3. Reinforcing the Child’s Sense of Being a Victim
In an effort to be sympathetic and empathetic, many parents reinforce a child’s sense of being a victim whenever they are hurt. Over-validation of the child’s hurt is generally for the purpose of support.
Common examples are parents trying to lessen their child’s experience of failure or disappointment. When Jane didn’t make the soccer team, her mother told her, "They just like those other girls better. They don’t know how good you are." This encourages Jane to feel like she is being bullied or discriminated against rather than accepting the probability that the other girls performed better than her during tryouts.
The child’s increasing sense of being a victim will increase their sense of helplessness and feelings of being damaged. These feelings can be harmful to their developing self-esteem while teaching them to fear everything and everyone. This is the thinking/feeling pattern often seen in individuals with traits of Paranoid and Borderline Personality Disorders.
All of the parenting errors discussed in this post are commonly made by parents who love their children and act in what they believe to be the child’s best interest. Nonetheless, children learn what they live. Let’s teach them right.