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40 Signs Of Emotionally Unavailable Parents And How To Heal

What Is An Emotionally Unavailable Parent

Emotionally unavailable parents are physically present but emotionally detached. They keep an emotional distance from their children, interacting with them only when necessary, and they remain uninvolved in their lives.

These emotionally absent mothers and fathers do not provide the emotional support and guidance that a child needs to develop emotional regulation, healthy relationships, and coping mechanisms. Emotional neglect in childhood is a form of child abuse​1​.

Parenting is an emotionally involved experience.

There are more joys, affections, anger, and worries involved in raising children than in any other endeavor. 

Parents’ emotions affect the quality of care they provide.

Positive emotions promote patient, sensitive care, and early attachment bonding​2​.

Negative emotions promote insensitive, abusive, and coercive parenting styles​3​

There is a strong correlation between parental warmth and favorable development outcomes for children and between parental hostility and negative developmental outcomes.

Emotionally unavailable parents are disengaged.

They are unresponsive and indifferent to most parenting tasks necessary for healthy child development​4​.

mother looks at laptop while daughter writes "cold mother syndrome"


When interacting with their children, emotionally unavailable parents display a pattern of physiological under-arousal​5​.

These detached parents cannot give their children the attention and emotional support they need.

Emotional unavailability in parents could be caused by the following factors.

  • Mental health disorders, such as depression and substance abuse
  • Distracted by work or commitments
  • Preoccupied with their own issues, such as their own childhood trauma in adulthood
  • Emotionally immature parents lack the ability to support their children’s emotional development
  • Distressed by marriage discord or other life events​6​
  • Lack of empathy or socialization-related emotions​7​
  • Emotional instability caused by poor emotional regulating skills

18 Signs of emotionally unavailable parents

Here are some of the common signs of emotionally cold parents​8​.

  1. Emotionally cold parents speak to their children with a flat tone of voice
  2. Avoid eye contact with their children
  3. Not interested in their children’s activities
  4. Avoid spending time with their children
  5. Unresponsive to their children in times of distress
  6. Always seem busy or preoccupied with something other than their children
  7. Rarely hug or smile at their children
  8. No expression of love in words or actions
  9. Passively reject their children’s display of affection
  10. Uninvolved in children’s lives
  11. Dismiss or ignore their children when they display emotions
  12. Do not praise or offer positive feedback
  13. No words of encouragement
  14. Depressed parents
  15. Have addiction-based issues
  16. Have a childhood history of emotional or physical abuse
  17. Uncomfortable with emotional connection
  18. Critical of children’s mistakes

22 Common Signs in young children

  1. Develop insecure-anxious attachment during childhood
  2. Attachment disorder (in extreme cases)
  3. Passive and withdrawn behavior patterns
  4. Childhood development delay and failure to thrive
  5. More anger, whining, and negative emotions
  6. Feelings of worthlessness, humiliation, shame, and self-blame
  7. Struggle in social interaction
  8. Speech delay
  9. Avoidance of mother and other children
  10. Behavioral issues and symptoms of behavioral disorders
  11. Difficulties in relationships with peers
  12. Disruptive and impulsive behavior
  13. Aggressive and defiant behavior
  14. Rocking and self-soothing motions in severe cases
  15. Cognitive deficits
  16. Low self-esteem and sense of self-worth
  17. Have trouble focusing
  18. Suffer from dissociative symptoms
  19. Less emotional competence
  20. Difficulty interpreting facial expressions
  21. Depressive symptoms
  22. Anxiety disorder symptoms


Future Relationships

When there is an emotional deficit in parents, children develop a deep fear of abandonment

Emotionally neglected children learn that their parents will respond, but only if they work at it.

They make the parent pay attention using attention-seeking behaviors such as being overly demanding or babyish.

Others may care for their parents so they will be wanted by them.

Boundary issues result when the duties of parents are blurred with those of children​9​.

It is likely that children who show this type of behavior and emotional neediness will end up in lopsided relationships or abusive relationships in adulthood.

Some children are also unable to trust or relate to others as a result of emotional neglect.

It may be hard for adult children to form deep relationships​10​


Children raised by emotionally distant parents may have a difficult time developing a sense of self-worth. 

They tend to have low self-esteem​11​.

Emotion dysregulation

Parents who are emotionally unavailable to their children are unable to provide optimal stimulation and regulate their children’s arousal. 

As a result, children lack emotional regulation skills to cope with the challenges of life​12​.

Suicidal attempts

Emotionally unavailable parenting can have significant, long-term effects.

Children growing up with an emotionally unavailable parental figure are more susceptible to suicide during adolescence​13​.

Mental Health

Children of emotionally unavailable parents may struggle with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety disorder, and eating disorders later in life​14​.

How To Heal from emotional neglect

Having emotionally detached parents have a profound impact on their children’s development.

Emotional neglect is particularly detrimental in infancy​1​.

As a child’s development progresses, neglect has an increasingly negative impact on their abilities and deficiencies.

Here are some suggestions to start the healing process.


Healing begins when you recognize the harm that has been done to you.

Issues were rooted in your parents’ own emotional needs, not in your inadequacy.

A major obstacle to healing is the belief that you are responsible for your parent’s emotional inaccessibility-that if you behaved differently, they would have been able to love you more.

However, this is not true. You are not responsible for their emotional availability or the lack of it. 


Accept that only they themselves can change their behavior.

Your parent may never get better or change, but what matters most is that you do.

Build a Support Network

The importance of seeking out and building a network of emotional support is particularly important for people who grew up without proper emotional support.

A good place to start is by seeking out friends who show understanding. 

A support group of people with similar experiences can help you feel understood, validated, and less isolated.

Sharing your story allows you to hear what helped others who have been there before.

Plan and Do Positive Activities

Engaging in positive activities can increase positive emotions and help you feel more normal. 

Positive activities may include doing fun things, exercising, meditating, and helping others.

Professional help

Seek mental health care whenever possible. In every state, there are public resources available to help those who cannot afford therapy.

An experienced therapist or psychologist can help you make sense of the past.

They can also help you develop new ways of looking at yourself and relating to others so you can build meaningful relationships.




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    * All information on is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *