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10 Parenting Mistakes That Could Lead to Anxiety and Depression in Adults

Katherine Cullen - Writer for Top10
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An older woman talking sternly to a sad younger woman
There's no such thing as the perfect parent, but certain repeated mistakes can have lasting negative effects on your child's mental health.

Parents aren’t the only culprits, of course. After all, anxiety and depression affect around 19.1% and 8.4% of American adults each year, respectively, and for a variety of reasons. But certain things parents do (or fail to do) can set their kids up for poor mental health in adulthood.

If you want your kids' mental health to thrive, you should understand your feelings and behavior and avoid the parent traps your caregivers possibly fall into. To help with this, check out these ten parenting mistakes that can contribute to anxiety and depression in adulthood.

» Looking for some additional support? Check out our top picks for the best online therapy services.

1. Not Treating Your Own Depression

When children see a parent struggling with hopelessness, unrelenting sadness, and lack of motivation, they may internalize a belief that there's no way out of such feelings, despite proven interventions. Depression can be managed, and parents can help each other through stretches of desolation.

If you experience symptoms of depression, seek help from a qualified professional as soon as possible.

2. Losing Your Temper

Some parents aren't aware of how much psychological damage they do by taking their aggression out on their children.

If you feel yourself losing your temper, take a few moments to slow down and re-evaluate the situation. It might even be a good idea to walk away for a few minutes.

3. Not Giving Children Enough Affection

You can help your children feel valued and cared for by demonstrating your love and appreciation, actively listening to them without distraction, and physically comforting them.

Affection also improves your child's emotion regulation skills, such as knowing socially acceptable ways to manage negative emotions like anger.

4. Fighting With Your Partner in Front of Your Child

The more conflict a child witnesses between their parents, the more stress they experience and the greater anxiety and sadness they risk carrying into adulthood. This stress can also lead to insecurities and cause children to fear their parents.

You should create a peaceful environment for your kids, which includes avoiding fights or arguments in front of them. If you have a disagreement, make a conscious effort to address it privately. When you model healthy conflict resolution, it can teach your children valuable skills they can use in their own relationships as they grow up.

5. Abusing Substances

Parents who consume alcohol or drugs excessively can stir feelings of neglect and instability in their children. This can put them at risk—not just for anxiety, depression, and adjustment issues but also for their own substance abuse problems as adults caused by genetic predisposition and environmental factors.

If you're dealing with substance abuse, you should seek professional support urgently.

» Learn more about signs your partner has a substance abuse problem.

6. Overly Controlling Your Child

Strict parenting can breed higher levels of anxiety and depression in adulthood since overly rigid rules dampen your child's confidence.

Strictness can also preclude them from building self-efficacy and autonomy, which can feed self-defeating thoughts. This can also lead to your child avoiding new experiences or social, romantic, and professional activities in adulthood.

Create realistic expectations of your child and set boundaries that still leave room for them to make mistakes they can learn from.

7. Being Too Lenient

The opposite of being strict also isn't helpful. Letting your children do and say whatever they want without limits can make them anxious when faced with rules or expectations and depressed due to lack of structure.

As a parent, you should provide your children with a clear and consistent structure. This will help them develop a sense of security and predictability, which can be crucial for their mental well-being. It's important to balance being strict and lenient and provide guidance and support when needed.

8. Not Treating Your Own Anxiety

When parents don't learn to manage their own symptoms of anxiety, their children can easily adopt the same problematic thinking and behavioral patterns.

Asking a professional for help to cope with your anxiety will help you and, in turn, your child.

9. Neglecting Your Child

Not meeting your child's basic needs for clothing, food, and cleanliness; not taking them to necessary doctor's appointments; or ignoring them and leaving them alone for long stretches of time qualifies as abuse. This can hamper their development and increases their risk of mental health conditions in adulthood, including anxiety and depression.

You should prioritize your child's physical and emotional needs and ensure they have everything they need to thrive. This includes providing healthy meals, ensuring access to medical care, and spending quality time with them.

10. Being Too Impatient With Your Child

Research shows that warm parenting (especially at toddler age) reduces the chances of poor externalizing in children's later years. Occasional tantrums are normal, but children who act out frequently and severely, such as hurting themselves or others, are more likely to be depressed in adulthood.

It's unrealistic never to get frustrated with your kids. But working with a therapist to improve your frustration tolerance can reduce how often you're exasperated with your children, allowing you to protect them from mental health issues later in life. Some techniques include:

  • Mindfulness
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy

Set Your Kids Up for Success by Dealing With Your Own Upbringing

Identifying shortcomings in your parenting techniques is vital. If you're a parent struggling with any of the issues above, it's critical to seek support so your child is protected from unintended consequences. Being present and setting realistic boundaries are essential in reducing long-term anxiety and depressive disorders for your child.

There are many resources for those who are struggling. Cerebral is a helpful place to start online talk therapy, and Amwell offers prescription services for additional support. SMART Recovery can also help with substance abuse. Support like this can help you recognize unhelpful thought patterns and learn new coping skills that interrupt familial cycles of anxiety and depression.

» Discover the best online therapy services for anxiety.

Katherine Cullen - Writer for Top10
Katherine Cullen is a psychotherapist in New York City and co-author of The Truth About Exercise Addiction: Understanding the Dark Side of Thinspiration. Her work has been published by numerous outlets, including Psychology Today, Cosmopolitan, and Self.

The author of this article has been paid by Natural Intelligence to write this article. Neither the author nor Natural Intelligence provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or your local emergency number immediately.