12 behaviors you should never display in front of your child, according to psychology

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“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” – Robert Fulghum.

Take a moment to let that sink in.

As parents, we often focus too much on what we tell our kids.

From our instructions to the heart-to-heart talks, and even when we tell them off, we try our best to be careful to pick the right words.

We get too caught up in what we say that we tend to forget one important piece of the parenting puzzle:

Our actions.

Research has shown time and again that how we act in front of our children has a lasting impact on them – sometimes even more than our words do.

On that note, here are 12 behaviors you should never display in front of your child, according to psychology:

1) Dealing with your personal conflicts

We all know fighting in front of our kids is fundamentally wrong.

But do we know how bad this can affect our children?

According to a 2012 study, children who witness their parents constantly arguing with each other may develop emotional insecurity.

Essentially, the study suggests that children who witness frequent fighting could internalize their emotional distress, leading to higher levels of anxiety and depression as they grow older.

Or it could also be the other way around.

These children could externalize their emotional difficulties, which often means they become violent or hostile individuals when they’re older.

2) Undermining the other parent

Not only should you deal with your conflicts in private, but you should also stop badmouthing and belittling your partner when the kids are within earshot. 

It should go without saying that doing this damages the kids’ relationship with the other parent.

But that’s not all.

Psychologists warn us of what this imparts to our kids:

  • Disrespect for authority is okay.
  • Dishonesty in a relationship isn’t important.

They emphasize that how you treat your partner or co-parent sets the standard for your child’s future social interactions.

3) Talking negatively about other people

Partner or not, you shouldn’t speak ill about anyone when the kids are around.

Not only does this put whoever you’re talking to in a bad light, but it also instills in your child that it’s okay to exclude or judge others.

But it doesn’t end there:

Research says when your kids overhear you saying negative things about other people, they tend to develop stereotypes and negative biases against these people, too. 

In the words of Robin Sharma, “Words can inspire. And words can destroy. Choose yours well.”

4) Talking about your kids in their presence

Of course, let’s not forget our kids. 

What we say about them matters just as much (if not more) than what we say about others.

According to experts, children develop self-esteem as early as the age of 5 so whatever we say about them has the power to erode or uplift their self-esteem.

But don’t get the wrong idea. 

They don’t suggest never talking about your kids’ wrong behaviors.

Instead, they recommend addressing the behavior rather than characteristics. It’s focusing on the things they can control.

And there’s more to it than just the negative.

Praising them too much can have harmful effects, too.

For example, saying “he’s so intelligent” can create a standard that can negatively impact their confidence should they fail to live up to it. 

So instead, they suggest saying things like, “He worked so hard to study for his exams” or ” He puts a lot of time and effort into his homework.”

Notice the difference? 

It’s about focusing on their efforts rather than their achievements.

5) Underestimating the bad and overestimating the good

Speaking of positives and negatives, British psychologists found that overestimating our kids’ positive emotions and underestimating their negative ones can stunt their emotional intelligence.

Think about it:

When we minimize their negative feelings, we risk making them feel misunderstood or alone when dealing with their worries, which can exacerbate the bad feelings even more.

On the other hand, when we assume they’re always okay or happy, they might hesitate to talk to us about their feelings of sadness, frustration, or disappointment.

In short, failure to understand and tune into what they really feel means failing to provide them with the guidance and support they need to help them cope with their emotions.

6) Being inconsistent

As adults, receiving mixed signals is so confusing, not to mention extremely annoying.

Now, think about how that messes up with our kids’ brains.

When we are inconsistent with our parenting and discipline styles, it can be really hard and confusing for our children to know what we expect of them and how they should act.

Dr Guarnotta, a licensed clinical psychologist, also says it’s hard for our kids to take our authority seriously if we don’t follow through.

Simply put, be consistent or be disrespected.

7) Disregarding rules and authority

In age-old terms, respect begets respect.

So, other than being consistent, if you want to be respected by your kids, show them how to respect others, too. 

And that includes following rules and having regard for authority.

Psychologist and educator Dr. Thomas Lickona emphasizes that the most effective way to teach children respect is to model it.

He says we should clearly and promptly correct disrespectful behavior and give corrective feedback as soon as possible.

Like our parents always taught us, let’s also instill in our kids the value of ” treating others the way you want to be treated.”

8) Displaying lack of empathy

Other than respect, empathy is also another key trait we should model for our children.

Psychology backs this up through a study conducted in 2020 where they found that children whose parents scored low in cognitive empathy tend to have more emotional or behavioral problems. 

Their findings conclude that these children can grow up to have more issues with anxiety, depression, aggression, and violence.


Empathy starts at home, but it doesn’t end there. 

Our children take whatever they learn about empathy out into the world.

9) Stepping into the ring for your child

Let’s be real:

If it were up to us, we would rather fight our children’s battles than risk them getting harmed at war.

But any good parent knows that doing this does more harm than good for our kids.

And experts couldn’t agree more.

According to psychologists, dealing with our kids’ conflicts robs them of the opportunity to learn how to effectively interact with others.

It also sends our children the wrong message that they don’t have a voice.

So next time you get the urge to step in, step back and give them the chance to win their battles on their own.

10) Not allowing them to make mistakes

Sure, we want them to win. 

But we also want them to fail sometimes.

Here’s why:

Experts highlight that letting our kids mess up is an effective way to teach them about resilience.

I feel you.

Watching them fail and knowing you could have helped them prevent it hurts like hell.

However, experts believe that doing this helps our children learn to correct their mistakes and make better, more informed decisions in the future.

11) Not listening

Imagine not being listened to. 

It hurts, right?

Now, magnify that feeling at least 100 times, and that’s how your child must feel when you fail to truly listen to them.

Of course, by listening, I mean genuinely focusing on what they’re saying and not just “hearing” their words just for the sake of it.

Psychologists affirm that this intent and active level of listening helps our kids develop their self-concept, it strengthens our bond with them, and it shows them the value of listening to others.

More importantly, it assures your children that they’re important to you.

12) Neglecting self-care

There’s a common misconception that practicing self-care is selfish.

It’s not.

Sure, it requires some time from your already busy schedule, but that’s not a bad thing.

More than anyone else, parents understand that neglecting to care for ourselves will eventually catch up with us. 

But did you know it can catch up on our kids, too?

Findings from a 2019 study reveal that neglecting our self-care can lead to parental burnout.

And the effects aren’t just an unkempt appearance or a grumpy you. 

It goes deeper.

It can lead to more severe consequences like neglectful behavior or failing to respond to your kids’ emotional or physical needs.

And the scariest and most alarming part is, the study says it can also lead to parental violence. 

Parental burnout is believed to increase the chances of a parent becoming more emotionally, physically, or psychologically abusive towards their children.

So keep this in mind:

Taking time for self-care isn’t a selfish luxury.

It’s a selfless necessity that ensures we give our kids the best care possible.

Our little ones reflect their daily life

Like our words, we as parents must also be mindful of our actions towards and around our children.

We may think it’s no big deal, but to their little minds and through their little eyes, their parents are their greatest role models. 

What you show them today may be what you see in them someday.

Take it from L.R. Knost:

“Many believe parenting is about controlling children’s behavior and training them to act like adults. I believe that parenting is about controlling my own behavior and acting like an adult myself. Children learn what they live and live what they learn.” 

Sarah Piluden-Natu-El

Sarah is a full-time mum, wife, and nurse on hiatus turned freelance writer. She is on a journey of diving deeper into life through life itself and uses her writing to share the lessons learned along the way. When not on her computer, she enjoys time with her family strolling along the Gold Coast's stunning beaches and captivating hinterland.

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