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Bad Parenting: What To Look For and How To Change It

Girl covers her ears looking scared and upset, while man and woman argue in the background

We’ve all been there; it’s been a rough day, the kids weren’t listening, you raised your voice more times than you’d like, and now that they’re all in bed, you’re left with your thoughts about the day. The guilt creeps in, you over-analyze each difficult moment, and you’re left feeling like a bad parent. But, does one bad day constitute a bad parent? Not at all. Bad days or challenging days are perfectly normal and all part of the parenting journey.

“Parenting is one of the best and hardest jobs you will ever do.” My mom told me that when I first became a mom, and I have never forgotten that statement. There was so much truth in it. There will be days when you feel like the perfect parent, and days when you feel like the worst. 

No matter how we try to navigate this journey, there will be times when we question whether or not we are a bad parent. So, we must delve into the concept of bad parenting to shed some light on what constitutes bad parenting, and what is really just a tough day or moment in time. Read on to learn more about what exactly is bad parenting, what to look for, its effects on children, and how to change it.

What Exactly IS Bad Parenting?

This is a term that, quite honestly, I’m not a big fan of. This is because the term does not provide adequate explanation to a given situation. Yes, sometimes there are clear signs of bad parenting, I am certainly not disputing that. And, those situations need to be addressed and remedied right away. But, I also believe that we as parents tend to judge ourselves too harshly and often call ourselves a bad parent when we’ve merely had a bad moment. 

Young boy cowers from their parent, as they are yelling at him

To properly define the term though, a bad parent would be someone who consistently fails to meet their child’s physical, emotional, and psychological needs. This might be through neglect, abuse, or consistently poor choices. It’s important to remember that there is always room for mistakes, but when certain patterns of behavior harm a child’s well-being or hinder their growth, it becomes critical to address and understand where we’re going wrong and what we can do to fix it.

Signs To Look For

Just like in life, parenting comes down to balance. Too much of something isn’t good, and neither is too little. For example, over-involvement in your child’s life is not good, but neither is under-involvement. Too much discipline leads to children feeling anxious or fearful, while not enough discipline leaves children to make difficult decisions on their own without the guidance of their parents. Balance is important in all aspects of our lives, including parenting.

Some of the signs to look for when considering whether or not you or someone else is a bad parent are very obvious, while others are more subtle. These are some of the most common signs of bad parenting and what you should look for.

1. Neglect

Neglect is a clear sign of bad parenting when a parent consistently fails to provide basic necessities like food, clothing, shelter, and emotional support. It can lead to profound emotional and physical consequences for the child, drastically hindering their development.

2. Abuse

Physical, emotional, or verbal abuse towards a child is a glaring indicator of bad parenting. Such behavior inflicts lasting trauma, erodes their self-esteem, and disrupts healthy emotional bonds between parent and child.

Young girl hides and cries with her hands covering her face.

3. Inconsistent Discipline

Inconsistent or erratic discipline can confuse children, making it difficult for them to grasp the consequences of their actions. This inconsistency can lead to behavioral problems and a lack of respect for authority. Decide what your approach to discipline is, and try to stay consistent with it.

4. Lack of Affection

A lack of physical and emotional affection can leave a child feeling unloved and emotionally distant from their parents. Expressing love and affection through hugs, praise, and positive interactions is so important for a child’s emotional well-being.

5. Negative Role Modeling

Parents who exhibit harmful behaviors or attitudes, such as substance abuse or prejudice, can negatively influence their children, perpetuating unhealthy patterns for future generations. We are our children’s fist teachers, and if we model our own prejudices, negative mindsets, and bad habits, then our children will grow up to do the same.

Substance abuse is a clear sign of bad parenting.

6. Overly Critical Parenting

Constant criticism, shaming, and unrealistic expectations can erode a child’s self-esteem and confidence. Constructive feedback is essential, but relentless negativity can lead to emotional scars and a distinct lack of confidence. Imagine your boss telling you consistently how you don’t measure up and are not good enough. Would you want to stay working there? I wouldn’t either.

7. Inadequate Supervision

Leaving children unsupervised or exposing them to content that is inappropriate for their age can jeopardize their safety and emotional well-being. Responsible parenting involves ensuring a child’s environment is safe and suitable for their age and maturity level.

8. Lack of Consistency

Inconsistency in daily routines and expectations can create confusion and anxiety for children. A stable environment with predictable routines helps children feel secure and develop a sense of stability.

A boy and a girl are looking unhappy. Children often feel unhappy when there is a lack of consistency in their lives.

9. Lack of Boundaries

Children thrive on boundaries because it helps them to understand how the world around them works. Parents who fail to establish and enforce appropriate boundaries can contribute to behavioral issues in their children. Without clear guidelines, children may struggle to understand limits and acceptable behavior.

10. No Emotional Support

Failing to provide emotional support and validation can leave a child feeling neglected and unloved, impacting their self-esteem and ability to form healthy relationships later in life. Children turn to their parents to feel supported and valued, and if that support is not there, they grow up feeling unworthy of love and affection.

11. Ignoring the Importance of Education

Parents who disregard their child’s education can hinder their future prospects. Lack of interest or involvement in a child’s educational journey can lead to poor academic performance and limited opportunities later in life.

Effect of Bad Parenting on Children

As a classroom teacher, I have had the unfortunate opportunity to see first-hand the effects of bad parenting has on children. It is heartbreaking to witness, and short of reporting obvious abuse, there is very little that teachers and other professionals can do to help the child.

Bad parenting can have profound and lasting effects on children, impacting their emotional, psychological, and even physical well-being. Some of the common effects of bad parenting on children include:

1. Low Self-Esteem

Children raised in environments characterized by neglect, criticism, or abuse often develop low self-esteem, doubting their worth and capabilities. Continually low self-esteem can lead to self-doubt, making it difficult for children to pursue their goals and dreams with confidence.

Girl looks out the window feeling uncertain.

2. Poor Emotional Regulation

Inadequate emotional support can lead to difficulties in managing emotions, resulting in frequent mood swings, anger issues, or depression. Children with emotional regulation issues may struggle to form stable relationships, as their emotional responses can be unpredictable and intense. This is something I witness regularly in the classroom, and it is usually my first indication that the student is not growing up in a positive household.

3. Behavioral Problems

Bad parenting can contribute to behavioral issues such as aggression, defiance, or withdrawal from social interactions, making it difficult for children to adapt to social normals. Untreated behavioral issues can lead to disciplinary problems at school, potentially affection a child’s academic future.

Boy screams while clutching a large ball. Behavioral problems are sometimes a sign of bad parenting.

4. Academic Challenges

Similar to behavioral problems, a lack of parental involvement or support in education can lead to lower academic performance, limiting a child’s future opportunities. Academic setbacks can limit a child’s career oppotunities, impacting their economic prospects in adulthood. But, as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs illustrates, a child who has not had their basic needs met cannot possibly move on to higher levels such as academics or personal growth.

5. Substance Abuse

Some children may turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with the emotional scars of bad parenting, leading to addiction problems. Substance abuse, in turn, can exacerbate mental health issues and lead to a hose of physical and legal problems for children.

6. Anxiety and Depression

Constant stress and emotional turmoil within the family can result in anxiety disorders or depression in children. Untreated anxiety and depression can persist into adulthood, affecting various aspects of a person’s life, including work and relationships. With childhood anxiety and depression rates skyrocketing in recent years, it is so important that we consider our children’s mental health and well-being.

Young girl looks sad and depressed, which can be a result of bad parenting.

7. Difficulty Trusting Others

Children who experience betrayal or neglect from their parents may struggle with trusting others, leading to challenges in forming healthy relationships. Trust issues can lead to isolation and loneliness, as children may struggle to form close bonds with friends and partners.

8. Low Empathy

Growing up without empathy and emotional support can hinder a child’s ability to understand and relate to the feelings of others. A lack of empathy can result in challenges in maintaining healthy relationships, as empathy is a fundamental component of emotional connection. But, if this is something the child hasn’t experienced for themselves, then they will not know how to model it later in life.

9. Higher Risk of Mental Health Issues

Bad parenting can increase the likelihood of a child developing various mental health disorders, including borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more. Children exposed to chronic stress may be at a higher risk of experiencing mental health issues throughout their lives, necessitating ongoing support and treatment.

Young boy sits looking ahead sadly

10. Physical Health Problems

Chronic stress from bad parenting can weaken a child’s immune system and increase the risk of physical health issues like heart disease and obesity. Physical health issues can create a lifelong burden, impacting overall quality of life and potentially even reducing life expectancy.

It is important to note that while these effects are common, not all children will experience them to the same degree, and many can overcome the challenges of bad parenting with the right support and intervention. Early recognition and intervention can make a significant difference in mitigating these negative effects and helping children build healthier, more fulfilling lives.

How to Change the Behavior

How to change your bad parenting behavior infographic

Bad parenting is not the only cause of childhood difficulties like anxiety or feelings of unworthiness, there are a multitude of factors. Sometimes, no matter how great a parent you are, your child may still struggle or have difficulties in life. Likewise, a child who comes from a home wrought with bad parenting does not always exhibit all of the signs or symptoms of that.

Also, keep in mind that one bad day, one bad moment, or one bad decision does not make you a bad parent. However, if you feel that there are areas that you need to work on, it is important that you take the necessary steps to do so.

1. Participate in Self-Reflection

Start by acknowledging that change is needed and take time for self-reflection. Identify specific behaviors or patterns that you want to change and the reasons behind them. This isn’t always easy to do, but it is important that we take a good look at ourselves through the eyes of our children.

2. Seek Support

Reach out to a therapist, counsellor, or parenting coach who can provide guidance, support, and strategies for improving parenting skills. Professional help can offer valuable insights and techniques tailored to your situation. There is no shame in asking for help; in fact, it is commendable to be able to recognize your need for it.

Two parents sit and talk with a counsellor.

3. Maintain Open Communication

If nothing else, foster open and honest communication with your child. Encourage them to express their thoughts, feelings, and concerns without fear of judgment. Actively listen to what they have to say, and validate how they are feeling.

4. Be Consistent

Consistency is key in parenting. Establish clear rules, boundaries, and consequences for behavior. Be consistent in enforcing these rules, and inconsistency can lead to confusion and frustration for children.

5. Use Positive Reinforcement

Focus on positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior. Praise and reward your child when they exhibit desirable behavior, which can motivate them to continue making positive choices. Teach your child about having a growth mindset, and how our mistakes help us learn, so they know that they are safe to make them.

6. Model Healthy Behavior

Be a positive role model for your child by demonstrating the behavior you want to see in them. Children often learn by observing their parents, so exhibit empathy, respect, and healthy communication. If you have unhealthy habits, try to get a handle on them so that your child does not mimic them later in life.

Child stands proudly with his father as his dad holds a sign that reads "Make America Think Again", setting a good example of how we need to stand up for what is right.

7. Manage Your Stress

Find healthy ways to manage your stress and emotions. Engage in self-care activities, such as exercise, meditation, or pursuing hobbies, to help you stay calm and patient as a parent. We’ve all heard the analogy of putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others. If you are stressed out and emotionally drained, you will not be able to support your child in the way they need and deserve.

8. Apologize and Make Amends

It’s okay to admit when you’ve made a mistake, and our children need to see us do that. Apologize sincerely to your child if you’ve reacted inappropriately or unfairly. This shows them that adults can acknowledge their errors and make amends. It also allows them to feel safe making their own mistakes as well.

9. Educate Yourself

It is not easy being a parent, and it certainly did not come with any instruction manual. So, it is important to continuously educate yourself about child development, effective discipline techniques, and healthy parenting practices. Attend parenting classes, read books, and stay informed about best practices.

Man sits and reads a book about parenting

10. Have Patience and Empathy

Practice patience and empathy in your interactions with your child. Try to see situations from their perspective and avoid reacting impulsively. Take a deep breath before responding to challenging behavior.

11. Monitor Your Progress

Keep track of your progress in changing your parenting behavior. Celebrate small victories and recognize the positive changes you’ve made. Adjust your strategies as needed.

Beware of the Judgment Trap

The importance of avoiding the judgment trap in parenting cannot be overstated. Parenthood is a journey fraught with challenges, and it’s all too easy to slip into the habit of passing harsh judgments on ourselves and others when faced with difficult moments.

Labelling yourself or someone else as a bad parent based on a single incident or challenging day fails to recognize the complexity of the parenting experience. It is so important to remember that everyone, parents included, has moments of vulnerability, exhaustion, and frustration. A single misstep doesn’t define the entirety of one’s parenting abilities.

Instead of judging, cultivating empathy, offering support, and extending understanding to ourselves and fellow parents can foster an environment where learning, growth, and resilience thrive. We must resist the urge to rush to judgment, for in doing so, we can create a more compassionate and nurturing community for parents and children alike.

A group of women sit talking and supporting one another.

There is Help Out There

If you feel that things are at a point where you need some additional help and support, then be sure to get yourself the help you need and deserve. Seeking professional help when you find that you are struggling is a courageous and proactive step. Parenthood can be overwhelming, and there is nothing wrong with asking for help.

A qualified therapist, counsellor, or parenting coach can provide invaluable guidance, strategies, or emotional support tailored to your specifics needs. They can help you identify and address and underlying issues, develop effective parenting techniques, and equip you with the tools to navigate difficult moments. Remember, seeking professional help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a powerful commitment to your child’s well-being and your own growth as a parent.

There are many support options available to parents in need, offering assistance in various forms. Organizations like Parents Anonymous and National Parent Helpline provide valuable resources, support groups, and helplines for parents facing challenges.

If you require professional therapy or coaching, you can turn to organizations such as Postpartum Support International for perinatal mental health support, Parenting for Lifelong Health for evidence-based parenting programs, or your local family child services agencies.

Additionally, many therapists and counsellors specialize in family and parenting issues and can provide individualized guidance depending on what you’re looking for. Online platforms like BetterHelp and Talkspace offer convenient access to licensed therapists who can help address parenting concerns or any other issues you may be dealing with.

Just remember, there’s no shortage of assistance available, and reaching out to these organizations or professionals can be a significant step toward finding the support you need to thrive as a parent.


At the end of the day, our ability to recognize our limitations and seek support is a testimony of our dedication to our children’s well-being. It’s important to remember that no one has all the answers, and every parent faces moments of doubt and difficulty.

We all make mistakes because we are all human, and we need to show ourselves more grace when that happens. By avoiding the judgment trap, extending empathy to ourselves and others, and reaching out for professional help with needed, we can create a nurturing and resilient family environment.

Numerous organizations and professionals are there to provide guidance and support, making it easier than ever to access the assistance we need. As we continue on this parenting journey, let’s prioritize understanding, compassion, and personal growth, for the benefit of both our children and ourselves. Don’t every feel that you are alone in this, and reach out for help when you need it. Together, we can build stronger families and brighter futures.

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