Unhealthy Parent-Child Relationship

Table of Content

Parenting is an art. It is a highly an demanding task that requires utmost dedication and readiness to deal with the thousand challenges it comes with. Yet, in the eyes of the children, this task often gets devalued or neglected, resulting in unhealthy parent-child relationships. The key to a healthy parent-child relationship is to learn to treat each other respectfully. Even though a child is young, respecting their individuality and boundaries is necessary, and therapy can help you find the ideal balance.

A healthy parent-and-child relationship ensures the child's holistic development and lays the foundations of his/her personality, behavior, mental/emotional strength, and overall personality.

However, the modern lifestyle and the emergence of nuclear families are leading to a massive cultural shift in how the kids perceive their parents and vice versa, leading to friction in the family. It is imperative to understand what leads to such toxic relationships in order to work on improving them.

What is an Unhealthy Parent-Child Relationship?

An unhealthy parent-child relationship is one where the connection between the parent and child is characterized by dysfunction and imbalance. These harmful dynamics can negatively impact the well-being of both the child and the parent. An unhealthy parent-child relationship can manifest in various ways, including emotional manipulation, exerting excessive control over the child, neglect, or physical and emotional abuse. In such relationships, one can observe factors such as a lack of established trust, respect, and boundaries for each other. 

What causes unhealthy parent-child relationships?

Various reasons might lead to a rift between a parent and child. Acknowledging and understanding these causes will help solve the problem better.

  • Not setting boundaries: No human being likes being controlled, and the same applies to your kids, too. Driven by hormonal changes, they often try to rebel against their parents, leading to fights. However, having healthy boundaries and consequences for tantrums is an essential part of parenting.
  • Rejection: It is manifested in various ways, like – physical neglect, denial of love & affection, lack of interest in the child's activities & achievements, failure to spend time with the child, & lack of respect for the child's rights & feelings as a person. In a few cases, it also involves cruel & abusive treatment. Studies show that parental rejection tends to foster low self–esteem, feelings of insecurity & inadequacy, increased aggression, retarded conscience, and general intellectual development.
  • Overprotection & Restrictiveness: The child-parent relationship is unique and special. However, to protect their child, parents can often cross the line between right parenting and overprotectiveness. The unwanted restrictions often hamper the development of such kids, and they miss out on freedom and the right opportunities and can often show signs of over-anxiety or fear. Safeguarding the kids from falling out of behavior is considered okay, but it shouldn’t nurture the qualities of dependency, submission, hostility, etc., in your kids.
  • Overpermissiveness & Overindulgence: Sometimes, one or both parents cater to the child's slightest whims & in doing so, fail to teach & reward desirable standards of behavior. Overly indulged children are characteristically spoiled, selfish, inconsiderate & demanding. High permissiveness & low punishment at home correlate positively with antisocial & aggressive behavior. These children readily enter into relationships but exploit people for their own purposes. Such children are often rebellious.
  • Substance abuse: Children, especially in their teens, are quite fascinated by anything that gives them a rush. The lure of alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs to look cool in front of their peers often excites them. Parents must exercise caution and indulge in healthy conversations to help them understand the consequences of developing a habit.
  • Unrealistic demands: Some parents place excessive pressures on their children to live up to unrealistically "high standards”. Under such sustained pressure, there is little room left for spontaneity or development as an independent person. Too often, the parents do not take into consideration the capabilities & temperament of each child, which leads to parent-child relationship problems.
  • Communication failure: Parents can discourage a child from asking questions & in other ways, fail to foster the "information exchange" essential for healthy personality development. Some parents are too busy with their own concerns to listen to their children & try to understand the conflicts & pressures they are facing. Consequently, these parents often fail to give needed support & assistance during crisis periods. Other parents may have forgotten that the world often looks different to a child. One extreme pattern of pathological communication that conveys a contradictory message is referred to as double-bind communication. Parents may convey one message by their words & another by their behavior.
  • Undesirable parental models: Since children tend to observe & imitate the behavior of their parents, it is apparent that parental behavior can have a highly beneficial or detrimental effect on the way a youngster learns to perceive, think, feel, or act. A parent who is emotionally disturbed, addicted to alcohol or drugs, or otherwise maladjusted may also serve as an undesirable model.

Possible risk factors for problematic parent-child relationships

Risk factors for problematic parent-child relationships are varied and dynamic. It could range from traumatic personal events to societal pressures and generational gaps in values and beliefs. That said, some common risk factors include: 

  • Extreme parental control
  • Overprotection
  • Marital conflict
  • Parental substance abuse
  • Socio-economic factors
  • Divorce or separation 

Effects of Poor Parent-Child Relationship

Poor relationships between parents and children can have negative emotional, psychological and social consequences. Children may face mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, as well as issues with self-esteem and difficulties forming or maintaining relationships. Both parents and children are also susceptible to substance abuse and drug addiction. In social settings, one may feel withdrawal and low confidence, inability to grasp information or emotions of loneliness. 

Parent-Child Relationship: How to resolve conflict? 

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”- Frederick Douglas.

The above saying fits well when resolving conflicts between the parents and the child. And since no two problems can be similar, the “One Size Fits All” approach does not work all the time. That being said, try following the below-mentioned to resolve various parent-child relationship problems you may encounter:

  • Listen to what your kids tell you. They could be experiencing issues with their friends, in their relationships, etc. Let them explain their problems, and then make them realize the consequences of their actions. Listening to your child is very important, as unhindered communication is the best way to keep a relationship healthy. 
  • Start trusting your kids and believe in the decisions they make. Loss of trust is one of the primary factors behind family disputes, so avoid it.  Kids will learn from their mistakes, and they need to learn from themselves for their personal growth. Hence, trust your child to make their own decisions instead of cushioning them all the time.
  • Compliment them every time you see them finishing a task or doing excellent in academics because appreciation goes a long way with kids and encourages positive behavior. Kids need reinforcement to perform positive actions, which also boosts their confidence.
  • Spend time with your kids devoid of electronic gadgets. Take a walk with them or have dinner together. These little activities will nurture your bond with each other and minimize conflicts.

Book an appointment with our counselor to help better understand your strained relationship with your child. 

Management of the parent-child relationship

Managing a strained relationship between parents and their infants, teenagers or grown-up children is challenging and needs to be handled in specific ways depending on the cause, nature and intensity of the problem. Professionals usually suggest potential management solutions for this issue based on the child's age group. 

Parent-Teenager Relationship Problems

Teenagers often have their own perspectives and feelings despite not being  themselves, and the first step to effectively manage issues is to ensure that the parent opens non-judgmental communication channels with their teenager. It is important to listen to your teen and show your respect towards them. Understand and validate their feelings, set clear boundaries and expectations, and provide them a safe, supportive environment for honest dialogue. Both parties must also prioritize quality time together to understand each others’ needs, engage in shared interests and strengthen their bonds in the process. 

Conflict With Grown-Up Children

Handling conflicts between parents and grown-up children can be complex, but it starts with finding common ground. On a general note, parents must acknowledge the fact that their children are capable of autonomous decision-making, and listen to them without judgment. Finding a safe, comfortable environment to share each others’ thoughts and feelings is important. You can find mutually agreeable solutions to your problems by exchanging your feelings and perspectives. If this compromise cannot be reached, it is a good idea.

You Can Reconnect With Your Children Again 

A strained relationship with your child can be difficult to accept and is mentally taxing. If you are in a situation where you are either unable to connect with your child or your efforts to connect are not solving the problem, consider reaching out to a mental healthcare professional. At Cadabams, our team of psychologists and therapists are well equipped to identify the underlying patterns of unhealthy relationships and provide practical solutions for it, depending on your unique personal experiences. Reach out to us today: 


1. What is a good parent/child relationship?

Ans. The parent-child relationship is the most essential while growing up. A good bond between the child and the parent sets the base for a child’s upbringing and holistic development. It also influences the development of a child’s overall personality. 

2. How important is the parent/child relationship?

Ans. Parents are a child’s first point of contact in the world. They are the ones who influence a child’s upbringing, worldview, and personality. Unhealthy relationships with parents can cause problems in a child's life. A healthy parent-child relationship ensures the holistic development of the child as well. 

3. What are Parent-Child Relationship problems?

Ans. An unhealthy relationship with parents can deeply impact the child over time. These problems include a lack of boundaries, rejection, restrictiveness and overprotection, overindulgence, substance abuse, and unrealistic expectations from children. The parent-child relationship problem can permeate into multiple aspects of life. 

4. What is an unhealthy Parent-Child Relationship?

An unhealthy parent-child relationship is characterized by dysfunction and imbalance, impacting both parties negatively. It usually includes emotional manipulation, excessive control, neglect, or abuse, often stemming from a lack of trust, respect, and boundaries.

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