Toxic parents verbally and emotionally abuse their children. They impose high expectations and excessive demands and behave in ways that cause guilt, fear, or obligation in their children.
Having a bad day does not make one a bad parent.
Unlike normal parenting behavior, toxic parenting involves patterns of behavior that have a negative impact on child development.
The most common toxic behavior of parents is to criticize their child, express self-wishes, complain about the difficulties of raising a child, make unhealthy comparisons, and make hurtful statements1.
These kinds of comments can cause permanent damage to the social, psychological, and emotional growth of a child.
Toxic things Parents Say
Below, are some of the most common toxic statements made by toxic parents.
Criticize the Child’s Appearance
- You are so fat / skinny / short.
- Why do you eat so much? Have you weighed yourself lately?
- When I was your age, I had a 21-inch waist.
- You could be pretty if you lost some weight.
- What’s wrong with your hair? It’s a mess.
- Nobody likes a fat girl.
Body shaming can have adverse emotional effects, including lowered self-esteem2 and the development of mental health struggles such as eating disorders3, body image disturbance, body dysmorphic disorder4, anxiety5, and depression.
In the long run, poor self-esteem and insecurity will prevent them from building and maintaining healthy relationships6.
Belittle the Child
- Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.
- You’re such a disappointment.
- Why did you do that? You’re so stupid.
- You can’t do anything right.
- You’re worthless.
- No one will ever love you.
- You can’t even open a jar. You’re so useless.
- You’re so dumb.
- No man would ever want to marry you.
- I don’t believe a word you say.
- Are you retarded?
- I’m tired of pretending to love you.
- You will amount to nothing
- You will never be able to do it.
- You deserve nothing in life.
- Your brother needed someone to play with, so we made you.
A child’s anxiety negatively influences their perception of themselves and the world. Frequent criticism from parents is linked to the development of anxious children7.
Parental rejection can also lead to self-criticism and depression8.
- Why can’t you be more like your cousin?
- Isn’t it amazing how much better your brother is doing this than you?
- Even your little sister knows how to do this.
- Look, your best friend is doing better than you.
- You’ll never find a wife as good as your brother’s.
- Your brother and sister are so much better than you. Learn from them.
Low self-esteem can result from being compared and seen as inferior to others.
As a result of not being valued, esteemed, wanted, desired, chosen, and accepted by their parents, children experience lower self-perceptions and self-worth9.
Parents’ differential treatment of siblings can also cause sibling rivalry10.
Blame, Shame, Toxic
- See how good your cousin is? I wish I had a daughter like her.
- It would be better if you died instead of your brother.
- I wish I never had kids.
- I wish you were never born.
- You’re the biggest mistake in my life.
- I don’t need you. You don’t do anything for me.
- I wish I had put you up for adoption.
- What did I do to deserve a child like you? Why couldn’t I have a good one?
- I wish I aborted you.
- You wrecked my marriage.
- You are the reason for my misery.
- Life would have been much easier without you.
- I gave up my dreams for you.
- I would be much better off without you.
- You are nothing but a burden to us.
- It’s your fault your mother died.
- You’re the reason behind every problem in this family.
- You ruined the family.
- I sacrificed my life for you.
- We are moving, and you are not invited.
- You will wake up one day, and never see me again.
- I kicked your father out, I can also kick you out.
Toxic parents are cruel, harsh, and critical. As a result of their psychological abuse, children feel incompetent, creating a sense of inadequacy and a sense of self that is not worthy of support11.
The feeling of shame can lead to an overly self-conscious child, making it challenging for them to build and maintain future relationships12.
Research also shows that these awful childhood experiences may lead to various physical illnesses, substance abuse, mental health disorders, and suicide attempts13.
- 1.Ney PG. Does Verbal Abuse Leave Deeper Scars: A Study of Children and Parents*. Can J Psychiatry. Published online June 1987:371-378. doi:10.1177/070674378703200509
- 2.Sappington A, Pharr R, Tunstall A, Rickert E. Relationships among child abuse, date abuse, and psychological problems. J Clin Psychol. 1997;53(4):319-329. doi:3.Proulx K. Experiences of Women with Bulimia Nervosa in a Mindfulness-Based Eating Disorder Treatment Group. Eating Disorders. Published online December 26, 2007:52-72. doi:10.1080/106402607017734964.Veale D. Advances in a cognitive behavioural model of body dysmorphic disorder. Body Image. Published online January 2004:113-125. doi:10.1016/s1740-1445(03)00009-35.Sachs-Ericsson N, Verona E, Joiner T, Preacher KJ. Parental verbal abuse and the mediating role of self-criticism in adult internalizing disorders. Journal of Affective Disorders. Published online July 2006:71-78. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2006.02.0146.Halpern-Meekin S, Manning WD, Giordano PC, Longmore MA. Relationship Churning, Physical Violence, and Verbal Abuse in Young Adult Relationships. Journal of Marriage and Family. Published online January 16, 2013:2-12. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2012.01029.x7.Wood JJ, McLeod BD, Sigman M, Hwang WC, Chu BC. Parenting and childhood anxiety: theory, empirical findings, and future directions. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Published online December 13, 2002:134-151. doi:10.1111/1469-7610.001068.Rapee R. Potential role of childrearing practices in the development of anxiety and depression. Clinical Psychology Review. Published online 1997:47-67. doi:10.1016/s0272-7358(96)00040-29.Gilbert P. The relationship of shame, social anxiety and depression: the role of the evaluation of social rank. Clin Psychol Psychother. Published online 2000:174-189. doi:10.McHale SM, Updegraff KA, Jackson‐Newsom J, Tucker CJ, Crouter AC. When Does Parents’ Differential Treatment Have Negative Implications for Siblings? Social Development. Published online May 2000:149-172. doi:10.1111/1467-9507.0011711.Cramer P. Young adult narcissism: A 20 year longitudinal study of the contribution of parenting styles, preschool precursors of narcissism, and denial. Journal of Research in Personality. Published online February 2011:19-28. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2010.11.00412.Coates D. Impact of Childhood Abuse: Biopsychosocial Pathways Through Which Adult Mental Health is Compromised. Australian Social Work. Published online December 2010:391-403. doi:10.1080/0312407x.2010.50853313.Ney PG, Fung T, Wickett AR. The worst combinations of child abuse and neglect. Child Abuse & Neglect. Published online September 1994:705-714. doi:10.1016/0145-2134(94)00037-9