Parents love their children, and they’ll do just about anything to protect them and keep them safe. And sometimes, this love and protection make it hard for them to see the child’s wrongdoings. To an outsider, certain behaviors might be an instant red flag.
But since parents can be very close to the child, they don’t have that objective perspective. However, there are some behaviors that parents should never ignore.
As a child grows and develops, it’s inevitable. They will show aggression, and this usually is provoked. For example, if someone hits them, or if someone takes something from them, they can act out in physical aggression. But normally, with proper discipline, a child outgrows this behavior.
What a parent should never ignore is aggression that is unprovoked. So, if a child acts violently without any reasonable cause, it can be a warning that they aren’t able to deal with negative feelings, such as anger or anxiety.
Rough play that goes too far
It’s okay for children to play. In fact, it’s downright necessary for healthy emotional development.
However, if the child does subtle, hurtful actions, it’s crucial that parents step in. Otherwise, the child can easily start to believe that it’s okay to hurt people.
Temper tantrums for the wrong reason
Now, temper tantrums are not an indication that there’s something wrong with your child. It’s safe to say that every single child has temper tantrums. It’s how they express pent-up emotions since they don’t have the communication skills to express their feelings with words.
It’s completely normal for a child to throw a temper tantrum if they don’t get their way, or if they’re over-tired. But what about when your child throws a fit when they’re worried about something. In other words, when your child has a panic attack?
While panic attacks are not an example of bad behavior, it’s important to acknowledge this issue and work to address it. This will support your child in developing healthy coping mechanisms as they grow.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little rough-and-tumble, every now and again. But if a child exhibits extreme destructive behavior, this could indicate an anti-social personality disorder.
And this is nothing to ignore. Not only does it lead to negative actions like harming animals, social withdrawal and destroying things, but it is also what serial killers are known to suffer from, too.
Exaggeration and lying
When a child lies, it can seem harmless and benign, but it’s important to nip this bad habit in the bud quickly. According to Jerry Wyckoff, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Getting Your Child From No to Yes, “Lying can become automatic if your child learns that it’s an easy way to make himself look better, to avoid doing something that he doesn’t want to do, or to prevent getting into trouble for something he’s already done.”
You can also argue that if a child becomes a good liar, it will be easy for him or her to convince themselves of something that simply isn’t true. In short, it can be easy for them to justify harmful, unkind behaviors.
Dysfunctional relationships between mother and child
So far, we’ve discussed problematic behaviors a child may exhibit, and why it’s so important for any parent to never ignore these behaviors.
However, it’s also important to look at the relationship between the parent and the child. If it’s a dysfunctional relationship, it can lead the way to emotional and behavioral problems as the child grows older.
Let’s take a look at four dysfunctional mother-son relationship patterns, and why they can be so damaging to the child. (While we describe these as mother-son dynamics, daughters may be at risk for some of these dysfunctional relationships, too.)
It’s always a beautiful thing to see a mother and son in a healthy, loving relationship. But if a mother takes control of her son and makes all the decisions for him, he will only and always be very dependent on her.
This dependency is not only unhealthy, but it also makes it difficult for him to form healthy relationships with other women.
There’s nothing wrong with protecting your child from harm’s way, but there is such thing as being overly protective, i.e., a helicopter mom. If a mother guards her son too much, it will interfere with him becoming mature, independent, and forge his own way.
A mother can lack the emotional support she needs for several reasons: she’s a widower, divorced, or simply because her husband no longer meets her emotional needs. In these cases, the mother turns to the son and he becomes her male partner and satisfies her emotional needs.
This can lead to a very problematic relationship known as “enmeshed”. This occurs when the mother and child need each other to satisfy all of their emotional needs. Examples of this can be seen in TV series, Bates Motel, where we follow the dysfunctional relationship between Norma and Norman Bates. (Side note: as you might have guessed it, the TV series is based on the classic horror film Psycho).
Enmeshed relationships are dysfunctional and deeply problematic for both parent and child. Enmeshed relationships can develop following illness, trauma, or significant social problems.
In these relationships, boundaries are unclear and therefore, easily crossed. In the end, both individuals lose their sense of emotional identity and individuality and become “enmeshed” with each other.
One of the reasons why these relationships are so destructive is because as time goes on, it becomes increasingly difficult for each person to have their own autonomy, their sense of self, and to grow into the individual they’re meant to become.
Since people in an enmeshed relationship are too close to the other person, it’s only natural that they won’t be able to notice the dysfunction. Therefore, here are some ways to figure out if the parent and child are in an enmeshed relationship:
- It’s difficult for both people to differentiate between their emotions and those of the other person
- The individual thinks they have to save someone, especially from their emotions
- The individual thinks the other person has to save them from their emotions
- There is little to no emotional space between both people
If the parent and child share a dysfunctional relationship, the parent can easily be blind to the wrongdoings of their child. The parent can also be blind to how they might be damaging the emotional development and well-being of their child.
However, there’s another problem with dysfunctional relationships, and it can keep parents from helping their child when necessary.
Betrayal of the relationship parents have with their child
You may observe potentially dangerous behaviors, such as destructive behavior and unprovoked aggression. But if the parent and child share a dysfunctional relationship, it may prevent them from disciplining the child and seeking professional help.
That’s because this healthy support isn’t seen as healthy support. Instead, it’s seen as a form of betrayal and a breaking of trust.
Unfortunately, it’s possible for well-meaning parents to be blind to the wrongdoings of their child. What’s more, it’s possible for parents and children to share dysfunctional relationships that can interfere with the child’s proper development.
However, with awareness and perspective, parents can take steps to support the emotional and psychological health and well-being of their child.