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Dysfunctional Parenting

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Dysfunctional Households

How does dysfunctional parenting create a dysfunctional household?

Dysfunctional parenting threatens the bonds between parents and children but it can also damage the bonds between siblings. In dysfunctional households, children may have to compete with each other for parental attention or affection, leading to rivalry and resentment, and, when parents play favorites, the experience of having had completely different childhoods.

How does verbal abuse affect children?

Verbal abuse of children receives less attention than overt physical abuse, but it can also have long-term effects. Such abuse does not just include yelling: “Quiet” verbal abuse may involve ignoring children when they share news or ask questions, expressing contempt for their ideas, gaslighting, and hypercriticism. The message conveyed by such actions—that a child doesn’t matter or have value—can promote self-criticism and impair emotional development. Research strongly suggests that, for a child, the negative effect of verbal abuse is stronger than the positive effect of a parent expressing love.

Narcissistic Parenting

What is it like to grow up in a narcissistic family?

In a narcissistic family, the needs of the parent are generally placed ahead of the needs of the children, and sons and daughters, rather than focusing on their own development, prioritize pleasing a parent. In this type of family dynamic, children find that acceptance is conditional, and dependent in part on their submission to parental demands. Denial, rage, and blame may be common elements, while vulnerability and responsibility are rejected. Primarily, children in such households may grow up without a sense of emotional safety.

How does narcissistic parenting affect someone's childhood?

Children raised by parents with narcissistic personality disorder, or who are high in narcissistic traits, may grow up not feeling seen or heard, and without having their feelings acknowledged. Narcissistic mothers and fathers may focus on children as an accessory and judge them primarily on how their actions reflect on the parent. Children raised in narcissistic families may grow up with self-doubt and low self-esteem and self-efficacy, and they may struggle to develop healthy adult relationships because they lacked positive role models.

Helicopter Parenting

What type of people are most likely to become helicopter parents?

Helicopter parents share some personality traits, chief among them anxiety and perfectionism. People who cannot bear to live with imperfection or uncertainty are more anxious and risk-avoidant, and more likely to overparent. Burdened by their own anxiety, they may see stepping in to solve children’s problems as the only way to feel secure about their performance as parents—and the more central to their identity their role as parent is, the more likely they may be to adopt helicopter-parent behavior.

What long-term problems can helicopter parenting can cause?

Children raised by helicopter parents, some research shows, may be more likely to develop health issues in adulthood, likely because they never learned to manage their health independently and without parents’ constant reminders about sleep, hygiene, and health care, they do not care for themselves properly. They may also be more likely to rely on medication for concerns like anxiety or depression because they were raised to resist any type of discomfort.

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