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How Do Parents Affect their Children’s Mental Health?

effect of parental mental health on children

Parents have an undeniable influence on their children. Parents have an affect on their child’s values, choices, behaviors, and overall health. Mental health is no exception. Parents play a key role in how their child perceives the world, reacts to certain situations, and feels about themselves and their own self-worth. This, in turn, can play into their child’s mental health and development long-term.

There are two key ways that parents affect their children’s mental health, that we will discuss today:

  1. Parents’ own mental health can influence their children’s mental health.
  2. Parenting styles and approaches can also affect their children’s mental health.

If you are a parent and concerned about your child’s mental and emotional health, there are steps you can take to create a positive environment for your child to thrive. Even if you are struggling with your mental health, there are ways you can mitigate its effect on your child’s well-being.

How Does Parental Mental Health Affect Children’s Mental Health?

Studies have consistently shown that there is a connection between parents’ mental health and the mental health of their children. Children with parents facing anxiety disorders are four to six times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, as well. Children of parents facing depression, similarly, are three to four times more likely to develop depressive conditions.

However, this does not guarantee that your mental health will negatively affect your children. This does not mean that your child will struggle with a mental health disorder, too. There are steps you can take to mitigate this risk.

For example, one of the best things you can do as a parent is communicate when you are struggling. We are not all, by any means, perfect. Feeling sad or fearful is inevitable, and some days will be worse than others. It is okay to let your child know (in age-appropriate language) when you are having a hard day—and, even more importantly, to let them know that it is not their fault. As Eli Lebowitz, director of the Yale Child Study Center’s Program for Anxiety Disorders, explained to CNN:

“It is scarier for a child to have a parent who is struggling and doesn’t talk about it, versus a parent who is struggling and does talk about it. Just make sure to use words they understand.”

This level of communication can help create a more positive environment for conversations about mental health. It can show your child that sad and scared feelings are normal, and it’s okay to acknowledge them. On top of this, talking to your child provides you the opportunity to tell them how much you love them, and assure them that these feelings are not their fault.

Parents who are struggling with their mental health should also model good coping behaviors and take time to take care of themselves. As much as you may feel that self-care is selfish, it is so important for yours’ and your child’s mental health. This might mean going to therapy, calling a friend, taking time off work, or going for a run outside. When you model positive coping techniques, your child will learn from them. Your child will learn healthy ways of dealing with hard feelings on their own. As Lebowitz told CNN, “Parents are like the mirror children look into to learn about themselves.”

You can also encourage healthy coping behaviors if you see your child struggling. For example, if your child is feeling anxious or scared, you may show them outlets like journaling or getting outside. Parents should also validate their child’s feelings and encourage them to do something positive. If your child is scared to go to school, for example, you could say: “I understand you are feeling scared, but I know you can do it.” Showing your child that you are confident in them, can help them build confidence in themselves.

Part of taking care of yourself, as a parent, means seeking professional help if and when you need it. Sometimes, bouts of anxiety or sadness can be managed without professional help. However, some anxiety and depressive symptoms are strong enough to warrant professional treatment. Getting yourself help will ensure you can positively influence your child long-term. And remember, therapy is for everyone. You do not need to be severely depressed to attend therapy. There are many benefits involved, and can allow you to be an even better parent.

How Can Parenting Styles Affect a Child’s Mental Health?

Parenting is no easy feat, but the way in which you parent can have an affect on your child’s mental health. Specifically, the way in which you engage with your child, handle conflict and punishment, and encourage your child in life can all play a role in your child’s mental health long-term.

There are various styles of parenting, each with their own impact on a child’s mental health. In general, parents who play an authoritative yet nurturing and communicative role often see the best success with their children. These are parents who encourage structure and moderation in their child’s lives, provide guidance and constructive feedback when needed, but also encourage their children to share their feelings, express emotions, and ask questions. This parenting approach can help children develop a sense of happiness, self-esteem, independence, cooperation, and respect.

Parents who take on a fully authoritarian style of parenting, however, may see negative impact on their child’s mental well-being. Studies show that harsh punishments, including spanking, can trigger aggressiveness, anti-social behaviors, and low self-esteem, among other mental health issues. These children may have trouble addressing their emotions, and might assume their needs are not important. According to a 2015 study, children who grew up with parents who yelled, shouted, or verbally humiliated them may had a greater likelihood of experiencing depression, aggression, anger management problems, delinquency, and trouble maintaining relationships in adulthood.

On the opposite spectrum, permissive parenting can also have negative effects on children’s mental health. Permissive parenting means that there is less structure in children’s lives, and rules are rarely enforced. Parents might be nurturing and compassionate, but their children may have issues with self-control, self-regulation, and authority longer-term.

Uninvolved parenting is another style that can, perhaps more obviously, harm a child’s mental health. Parents who provide the basics for their child, but who are not actively involved in their child’s life, often means that the child lacks structure, guidance, mentorship, and nurturing. Children growing up in this type of environment—where they are not attached to a primary caregiver, or where they do not have the safety and security of a caring family—can cause them to develop anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem, and other psychological effects.

Of course, outside of parenting styles, there are other factors that can negatively (and positively) affect a child’s mental health. For example, constant pressure from parents to succeed can create anxiety and stress-related problems in children, adolescents, and young adults. Pressure might be on children to get straight A’s in school, excel in sports or extracurriculars, and uphold certain social and cultural standards. While parents want what is best for their children, too much pressure to succeed can have negative implications. A 2020 study found that pressure imposed by family members can be the most impactful form of stress on teenagers’ mental health.

Other ways in which parents can negatively affect a child’s mental health include:

  • Focusing too heavily on body image, or teasing a child about their weight
  • Criticizing children and engaging in negative self-talk (e.g. using words like “stupid”)
  • Failing to address potential traumas at home, such as divorce, death, or abuse
  • Enabling a child by doing things for them, including school work
  • Dismissing a child’s feelings

So, what can parents do to positively affect their children’s mental health?

How Parents Can Positively Affect a Child’s Mental Health:

More than likely, you have good intentions and want the best for your child. But again, parenting is not easy and there are times you might question your approach. Here are some of the best ways you can create a positive environment for your child, and encourage positive mental health at home:

  • Use more praise than criticism. This means acknowledging what your child does well, more often than criticizing your child for their mistakes. This can boost their confidence and self-esteem, and motivate them to be successful.
  • Validate your child’s feelings, always. Always acknowledge your child’s emotions, even if you might not agree with them. Help them feel heard and understood. Keep open conversations about emotions going in your home.
  • Set rules, not ultimatums. As PsychCentral suggests, overly controlling parents can cause children to not believe in themselves, trust their own feelings, or develop self-worth. Set rules in your home, but allow there to be ongoing conversations about them.
  • Showcase healthy coping techniques. As noted above, children mirror what their parents do. If you are feeling sad or overwhelmed, show your child how you can positively cope with those feelings. Practice self-care and teach your child to honor themselves, too.
  • Keep conversations open. Parents who are open about their feelings, and who communicate with their child frequently, will establish the greatest form of trust with their children. This can set the stage for a healthy child long-term. Even if your child is facing mental health struggles already, open and honest conversations can enable you to understand them, and get them the help they truly need. There is too much stigma around mental health—but having discussions in your home about it, can help to normalize your child’s feelings and make them feel supported.
  • Get help when you need it. If you are a parent and struggling with mental illness, do not hesitate to seek the help you need. Professional support can show you ways to cope, and ways to support your child through it all. If your child is struggling with their mental health, do not hesitate to get help. It is never too early to seek professional treatment for a mental health disorder. In fact, the earlier you seek treatment, the more success your child is likely to see into adulthood. There are dedicated mental health treatment centers for youth.

At the end of the day, mental health issues are very common—and they often start in adolescence. As a parent, it is important to remember that no one is to blame for this disease. Mental illness can happen to anyone. If your child is struggling with a mental health condition, you are not to blame. Even if you too have a mental illness, it is not your fault. No one is at fault—not your child, not your spouse. Mental illness is a disease. As Marcy Burstein, clinical psychologist at the National Institute of Mental Health, explains: “Mental health issues should be considered like any other illness. We don’t blame someone for having diabetes.”

However, as a parent, you do hold a power to positively influence your child. By being a communicative, compassionate, and supportive parent—while also setting boundaries and rules for your child—you can affect your child’s mental health positively and help them to thrive.

For more information about children and adolescent mental health, please do not hesitate to reach out. Turnbridge is a recognized mental health treatment provider for young people struggling. We are here for your family. Call 877-581-1793 today.