4 Ways to Correct Toxic Parenting

Toxic parenting can sneak into your daily life without you even realizing it. Mighty Mommy shares four examples of toxic parenting and strategies to turn it around fast.


Cheryl Butler
Read time: 7-min
Episode #448

Toxic parenting and ways to fix it

Last week I attended my son’s high school soccer game. Because I work full time, attending games at 3:30 in the afternoon is truly a luxury, so when I can pull it off, it’s a huge score for both my son and me. I arrived without incident (and actually remembered to bring him a chilled Gatorade!) and settled into the bleachers with a few other parents. The sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky, and even better—I was having a great hair day!

The team took the field and the game was off and running. I didn’t have a care in the world. My 9th-grade son was playing Varsity and was having a great game. My iced tea was hitting the spot, yet just when I was about to indulge in some snacks the insults began. No, it wasn’t fans from the “other team” hurling rude comments towards our guys—it was a couple of our “own” criticizing and ridiculing their own kids and their friends. Yikes!

What is a Toxic Parent?

Though we as parents may find this hard to believe, without even realizing it we can offer up extremely negative comments and send discouraging vibes towards our kids through our choice of words, tone of voice, and body language. This type of behavior is known as toxic parenting and not only is it hurtful, it can be tremendously damaging.

Toxic means poisonous, noxious, contaminated. In the article Toxic Parenting, “the phrase toxic parent was coined to describe parents whose own negative behavior grossly inflicts emotional damage which contaminates their children's sense of self.” If you've ever caught yourself lapsing into a state of toxic parentnig, here are four examples and strategies to turn it around fast.

4 Tips to Fix Toxic Parenting

  1. Don’t talk over your child
  2. Curb your own negativity
  3. Stop being overly critical
  4. Don’t use guilt to control your child

Let's dive a little deeper into each.

Tip #1: Don’t Talk Over Your Child

Communication isn’t just about coordinating the car pool or giving gentle reminders to your kids that they’d better put away the laundry "or else." It’s about sharing your true feelings, desires, fears, and experiences with those who are dearest to you. Engaging in strong, meaningful conversation is the key to building a solid family life. This doesn’t always come easy to everyone, but when you're mindful of how you're speaking and listening to your kids, everyone benefits.

A while back I heard a terrific acronym—W.A.I.T., or Why Am I Talking? When trying to improve any relationship, listening is far more important than chatting. Whether it’s your spouse, your kids, or even a co-worker, if they have something important on their minds that they want to share, let them have the floor and tune in with interest. Interject your thoughts and responses when appropriate, but try and step back

Tip #2: Curb Your Own Negativity

I’ve always believed that parents set the emotional tone in their home environment. When we’re exhausted and cranky we are less patient with our kids and our spouse, and we can nag and snap more easily. Yet when we’re happy and energized we set off a spunky, positive vibe and the entire family lightens up. In 11 Ways You’re Being a Toxic Parent—Without Even Knowing It, Jeffrey Bernstein, PhD, an internationally-recognized child psychology expert and author of 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child, says that a parent's thoughts are often at the root of negative behavior in children. He explains, "No kid is perfect, but parents often don't realize just how much their own thoughts, rather than their children's behavior, contribute to their own emotions."

Parents that catch themselves in a cycle of negative thinking should take a step back and rephrase their negative thoughts into more positive ones. For example, rephrasing the thought "He's being such a brat today," into, "He's having a hard time today, I wonder what's going on," can have a big impact on your interaction with your child.


About the Author

Cheryl Butler

Cheryl L. Butler is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. Call the Mighty Mommy listener line at 401-284-7575 to ask a parenting question. Your call could be featured on the show!

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