The Effect of Parents on a Child’s Psychological Development
For any parent who has children, their main role is to care for and prepare their child for independent survival as an adult. We all begin completely dependant on our parents, and so if they raise us successfully, we leave as self-respecting and self responsible adults. We are then able to confidently face and cope with the challenges of life.
Of course, not all adults are the same, as we each have differing levels of confidence, optimism, self-esteem and self-worth. Each of these characteristics are greatly influenced by how a child was raised and the type of parents that raised them.
In general, it can be said that there are two main types of parents. The first are those who treat their children with love and respect. These types of parents are likely to produce children that grow up having the highest levels of self-esteem and confidence.
The second type of parent are those who treat their children without love or respect, and these children are likely to grow up having the lowest levels of self-esteem and confidence.
However, things are not quite as simple or straightforward as has just been described.
A parent may treat their child with love and respect for example, but do it in the wrong way. This may then result in a child who has low levels of self-esteem and confidence when one would have expected the opposite to happen.
So it is important to remember that childhood development can be influenced not only by what a parent does for their child, but crucially, how they do it.
How were your parents treated as a child?
The way that you were treated by your parents is often a direct reflection of how their parents treated them. For example, a parent who beats their child or shouts at them, was most likely beaten or shouted at when they were growing up. Just like how a parent who is overprotective towards their child most likely had an overprotective parent.
This is one reason why children often grow up to be very similar to their parents, because as children our parents are the first role models we have as examples of how to behave.
The example they set for us becomes lodged into the impressionable childhood mind, were it then plays a big influence in determining the type of adult that child will eventually become.
A good way to think about the childhood mind is being like a big block of stone. For roughly the first six years of your life your parents were the sole sculptors of that stone.
They slowly chipped away at it and shaped it in their own image. This sculpted stone then became the base of who you are as a person today and what the other sculptors in your life will have to work with.
The block of stone that we have just been referring to is your subconscious mind. It contains all the beliefs which you have about yourself and the world you live in. It is responsible for determining the types of thoughts you have, the type of actions you take and the types of feelings which you have about yourself.
Although the subconscious mind will change as a person grows older as a result of exposure to new information and new life experiences, in most people, the very base of their subconscious will remain intact exactly how their parents shaped it.
In this sense, the root of the subconscious is essentially a combination of your parents’ minds and will stay that way unless it is examined and changed. This subconscious programming will of course, then be passed on to your own children, for better or for worse.
In the rest of this article, we shall look at some of the factors that can influence how a child turns out as a result of the way their parents raised them.
This will not only help you to better understand yourself and make changes to your life if necessary, but will also help you to raise your children in a way that will give them the best chance of developing into a successful and happy adult later in life.
Did your parents ever tell you that they love you? There’s a good chance they did, but it probably mostly came from your mother as men tend to be less forthcoming with their emotions than women.
However, whilst most people did receive love from their parents, there are different ways that they could have received it.
For example, some people were shown love simply for being who they are, regardless of the right or wrong they did. This is called unconditional love. It means that I love you for you and nothing else you do will ever change that.
The opposite of unconditional love is conditional love, and this type of love is usually tied to one’s performance. For example, if you live up to your parents’ expectations and please them, then they will show you love. But if you don’t live up to their expectations, then this love will be withdrawn or withheld.
So unlike unconditional love, conditional love is expressed as “I love you, but only if you do this. If you don’t do it, I don’t love you“. Of course, a parent is unlikely to use this exact expression, but instead will express the meaning of those words in their actions towards their child.
Dangers and benefits of conditional love
One of the reasons why conditional love is used so often by parents, is because it is usually seen as the best way to encourage a child to do something.
Later on in life, conditional love can then result in a highly productive and motivated adult because they will always try their hardest to do something in order to receive praise or win approval for doing it.
Whilst this certainly can be a good characteristic to have, the danger lies in the fact that their self-esteem is tied to external factors outside of them. So if they are unable to do something well, or fail at something, they will often be left suffering with low levels of self-confidence and self-esteem.
This is because for a person who has received conditional love, failure means that they are somehow a bad person who is not worthy of being loved or liked by others. Only success can give them the sense of belongingness and acceptance that every individual craves from the significant people in their life.
Conditional vs unconditional love
The type of love that you receive during your childhood will greatly influence how you later view yourself as a teenager and adult. If you were given unconditional love, then most likely you learned to accept yourself for who you are and are happy just being you. You will have high levels of internally generated self acceptance, self-esteem and confidence.
However, if you were given conditional love, which is the most common type of love that parents give, you are more likely to develop into an adult with lower self-worth, feelings of inadequacy, limiting beliefs and insecurity which can result in suspicion and jealously in relationships. This is because the underlying message that conditional love sends, is that you are not really good enough being who you are.
Interestingly, people who received predominantly conditional love as children are the most likely to feel uncomfortable about their body and seek plastic surgery to correct any “flaws” they may have.
They are also likely to feel inadequate with themselves after seeing rich or beautiful people in movies and magazines, which can then result in them spending a lot of money on expensive goods in an attempt to increase their image or status.
Publicly, such people will usually display high levels of confidence and self-esteem, especially if they are doing well in their career or relationship. This confidence and esteem however, is in actuality very fragile and vulnerable to the changes in their life which don’t go according to plan.
As a result, if something bad does happen to them, they can find it very difficult to deal with and their previously high levels of confidence and self-esteem will come quickly crashing down.
If conditional love is what you mainly received as a child, then you would strongly benefit from developing internally generated self-esteem. This is done by learning to accept yourself for who you are, rather than for what you do or what you possess.
In other words, if all you received is conditional love from your parents, then you need to make up for it by showing yourself as much unconditional love as you can.
How much you accept yourself as an adult is strongly tied to the type of love that you received as a child. Unconditional love will generally result in high levels of self acceptance, whilst conditional love will generally result in low levels of self acceptance.
In addition to the type of love that you received, how your parents responded to the things that you wanted and dreamt about can also play a big influence in shaping the level of acceptance which you are able to have for yourself.
For example, many children often aspire to be something which their parents do not approve of. They may want to be an artist, a singer or an actor, but their parents try to discourage them from it by saying things such as “you are not talented enough” or “you will never make it“.
As winning parental approval is something which all children desire to do, even as adults, parental disapproval can be an extremely powerful influence on a person’s behavior.
So if a child or teenager continually receives negative feedback when they try to express their hopes and dreams, then eventually they will learn to deny or disown their feelings in order to please their parent. In other words, they learn that in order to make other people happy they must put their own needs second to those of others.
Self denial ultimately leads to a lack of self acceptance, because the underlying message being communicated to oneself is that “what I want is less important than what other people want“. This of course, will also adversely affect one’s level of self-esteem, confidence and their belief in their ability to have, do or achieve the things they really want in life.
Eventually, this can result in a “need to please” type of attitude, where a person believes that in order to get what they want, they must first please or prove themselves to other people.
When taken to the extreme, this attitude can be vividly seen in people who are overly nice and completely submissive to the requests of others. They becoming willing to do or say anything to make you happy, so that you will like and accept them.
Unfortunately, such an attitude leaves that person with very little control over their own emotional state, because how they feel about themselves is ultimately determined by how others feel about them. If others like them, they will like themselves. But if others dislike them, they will find it difficult to deal with, take it very personally and may even slip into a depression.
Most people have a need to please attitude, although the extent of this attitude will largely be determined by the level of self acceptance which they have for themselves.
Finding a solution
A lack of self acceptance is extremely common in today’s society and tends to be amplified by the media which instills feelings of inadequacy in the viewer by showing images of beautiful, rich and successful people.
As a result, there are a lot of people who are completely submissive and will do what others tell them to do or expect them to do, at the expense of their own personal ambitions.
Whenever one denies what they really want in life, those hopes and aspirations are never forgotten even though they may disappear from the conscious mind.
Instead, they are pushed to the back of the mind, to the subconscious mind, where they will create conflict within that person because they are not living a life that is aligned with their true desires.
This invariably leads to a lack of fulfillment and satisfaction in life, because even though that person wants to do one thing, they feel as though they are being forced to do something else.
In order to improve your level of self acceptance, you need to become more focused on yourself and on what you want. You need to stop being so concerned about what other people want of you, what other people expect of you or what other people think of you.
The more you allow yourself to be influenced by such things, the further away you will push your own hopes and dreams and the less happy and fulfilled you will be as a result.
Remember, if you are not putting your needs first then you are putting your needs last. Each time you do this you communicate to your subconscious that you are less important than someone else, and so the lower your level of self acceptance will become.
A child who receives respect from adults tends to learn respect for themselves and for other people. For example, if a child is sworn at by their parents, then they will be likely to use swear words when talking with other people.
If a child is taught to say please and thank you, then they will likely talk to others in a polite way. As our first teachers and role models are our parents, they teach us by the way that they treat us, which then determines the type of adult that one is likely to become.
Interestingly, some psychologists believe that humans naturally treat children with disrespect from the moment they are born, and by doing so, may even reduce the potential intelligence of the developing child.
What these psychologists are referring to is how adults talk to babies using a “silly voice”, which is different to how they would normally speak with other people. It has been suggested that this may actually slow down the rate at which a child learns how to speak, and even how well they will speak later in life.
In light of this research, some believe that it would be far more beneficial to talk to babies using your normal voice. This is how babies and children were spoken to in Victorian England, where children were often referred to as “little adults”.
Whether or not this theory holds any validity, it does show how many parents treat their children differently to how they would treat other people. Often, this difference is seen in a lack of respect.
Parental disrespect towards children continues later in life, and is most evident during times of frustration. For example, if a child spills a drink on the carpet, they may be shouted at and called stupid. If they make a mess with their food during dinner time, they may again be shouted at and put down.
Becoming angry or shouting at a child is actually quite normal behavior, as a lot of parents do treat their children in this way. Even if something was an accident, they will still blame their child for it and give them a hard time over it.
The funny thing is, that once one examines this behavior in more detail, it quickly becomes apparent how inappropriate it actually is.
Ask yourself for example, would you shout at or put down a guest who spilt a drink on your floor? Would you scream at them if they accidentally broke something in your home?
For most people, the thought of shouting or abusing their friends would be unimaginable. Yet, for some reason, we consider this to be perfectly acceptable behavior to display towards our very own flesh and blood, our children. Why should they receive less respect than a stranger?
When a parent shows a child less respect than they do to others, they unconsciously communicate a message that this is how they deserve to be treated, and that the disrespect their parent is showing them is an acceptable form of behavior.
Later, as the child grows into a teenager, they may then show the same lack of respect towards their parents. They may swear or shout at them and not listen to what they have to say.
In the same way their parents did not respect them as children, now as teenagers, they do not respect their parents as adults. That teenager may also have learned not treat themselves with respect, and/or allow other people to treat them in a disrespectful manner. Just like how their parents treated them.
This then further reinforces their lack of self-respect and destroys both their self-esteem and self acceptance. If this process continues, it can be very difficult to reverse.
Adult manifestations of a lack of childhood respect
A lack of self-respect can manifest itself in two ways. The first is how you treat yourself. For example, do you look after your body by keeping it fit and healthy? Or are you overweight after years of not exercising and eating junk food? Do you take drugs or drink alcohol excessively?
The second way that self-respect manifests itself is in your interactions with other people. For example, if someone puts you down or makes fun of you, do you stand up for yourself or do you turn away with your tail between your legs?
In either case, a person’s level of self-respect will operate in a self reinforcing manner, whereby the more respect you show for yourself, the more self-respect you will have and the more others will respect you. Conversely, the less respect you show for yourself, the less self-respect you will have and the less others will respect you.
Treating yourself with respect
Even though you may have little self-respect at present, it is possible to dramatically improve it by always treating yourself with respect. To do this, you must first look after your body by ensuring that it is kept fit, healthy and trim.
In addition, you must also never tolerate anyone who makes fun of you, puts you down or treats you in a disrespectful manner. This includes your parents, many of whom often treat their grown children as if they were still small children.
If you can follow these steps and ensure that you are always treated with the maximum respect which you deserve, self-respect will come naturally to you. As a result, your self-esteem will improve and your interactions with other people will be much more pleasant and fulfilling.
As a side note, it is important to remember that you should never resort to physical violence if you feel that someone is disrespecting you. Although respect can be gained through violence, it is not a road you should go down as it can end up causing you much more trouble than it’s worth.
True respect is gained by standing up for what you believe in and acting in a sensible and mature manner where you remain calm, composed and are able maintain your dignity.
Have you ever stood with a group of people and felt like no one was paying attention to you? Like you were invisible? Most of us have, and a similar thing happens to us as children.
It’s called our “psychological visibility” and refers to how visible you feel in the presence of others and how well you feel that you are understood by other people.
For example, if I smiled at you and you smiled back and said “hello”, I would feel visible and understood. You have seen, recognized and acknowledged me. However, if I smiled at you and instead of smiling back you either ignored me or laughed in my face, then I would be made to feel invisible and misunderstood.
Psychological visibility is therefore created by receiving an appropriate and expected response. If this response is inappropriate, or absent altogether, psychological invisibility is created instead.
The importance of being visible
Every child has a natural desire to be seen, heard, understood and responded to appropriately by their parents. As a result, children will go to great lengths to make themselves seen.
This is a very important need during child development, and is one of the main reasons why a child will look to their parent after having done something. They want to be seen. To be noticed. To be approved of. To be acknowledged that they are there. To be visible.
Sometimes parents reject their child’s desire to be seen, heard and understood. If this becomes the norm during that child’s development, there will be a strong chance that they will grow up not feeling very special or important.
For example, maybe as a child when they came running into the kitchen full of joy, they were angrily told to shut up and go away. Or perhaps as a teenager they confided in a parent about the pain they felt regarding a relationship which had ended, but instead of receiving comfort and understanding, they were simply told “not to worry about it” and “things like this happen“.
Throughout the child’s life, they constantly craved to be seen and understood by their parents. To be visible. But instead, they were made to feel ignored and misunderstood. Invisible.
As an adult, they are likely to suffer from low self-confidence and may be afraid to express their thoughts and opinions for fear that nobody will listen to them or take them seriously. Just as they felt invisible as a child, so will they feel the same way as a grown adult.
What determines the type of adult you become?
The amount of psychological visibility or invisibility that you experience during your childhood has a massive influence on the type of adult you become. If for most of the time you were made to feel visible for example, then you are likely to grow in to a confident adult who expects to be seen, heard and understood by other people.
People with this type of personality can easily speak in front of a large number of people and enjoy being the center of attention. They feel that they are important and that other people will want to hear what they have to say.
If however, you were predominantly made to feel invisible as a child, then there is a good chance that you will grow up into a shy and withdrawn adult who lacks self-esteem and confidence.
This type of adult has the mentality that they are not worth listening to and that nobody is really interested in what they have to say. Consequently, they tend to speak quietly and usually only when they are spoken to. They keep their head down, don’t make a fuss and are careful about how they express their views and opinions.
Essentially, such people have carried over a subconscious limiting belief which they acquired during their childhood from their parents, and have now applied it to their adult working and social life. Even though they are no longer with their parents, their subconscious still believes that they are “invisible”, and as a result, they continue to act in an “invisible” way.
To what extent you develop these traits, will largely depend on how often you were made to feel invisible.
What’s the solution?
Like all subconscious limiting beliefs, removing limiting belief systems can be extremely difficult. Especially if you have had a particular belief all your life. Most of the beliefs that will hold you back from achieving success will relate to feelings of inadequacy, like you are not worthy to have, do or achieve something.
Such beliefs will very often result in self sabotage. This occurs when a person is close to achieving something that they subconsciously feel unworthy of, and so they then do something (unconsciously) to prevent themselves from getting it. In effect, they sabotage themselves to keep their life at a level which they feel worthy and deserving of.
If you can convince the subconscious that you are worthy of greater success and happiness, then eventually it will adopt that new belief and act out the program in your life.
This can be done through various mind reprogramming techniques such as goal setting, hypnosis, meditation and affirmations. But even just being aware of what is going on in your life, and where it originates from, can prove to be a massive advantage and help.
If you know that you act a certain way because of the things which happened to you during your childhood for example, then you can confront those memories and make a conscious effort to act in a different way.
For example, it is very common for people who are made to feel invisible to do extravagant things to make themselves feel visible again. They will dress up in outrageous outfits, wear brightly colored clothes or do wild things. All of these are designed to draw attention to themselves, and by doing so, fulfill their need to be visible.
Other people choose to become visible in less dramatic ways. Some will write a book. Some will start a website. Some will pursue a career in the entertainment industry.
Whatever it is that you can do to make yourself feel visible will help to improve the way you feel about yourself, and allow you to lead a much more satisfying and fulfilling life as a result.
Understanding and Accepting Praise
Many parents use praise as a means of encouraging and rewarding their children. However, whilst praise certainly can be beneficial when used correctly, inappropriate praise can be just as harmful to a child as inappropriate criticism.
To understand what inappropriate praise is, we first need to examine the different types of praise that a parent can give to their child.
Generalized praise, such as “well done”, is praise that does not address anything in particular. As a result, this type of praise tends not to be very effective at getting a child to do something again, because that child is left wondering what specific action or behavior the praise was directed at.
Overblown praise is praise which has been wildly exaggerated. For example, telling a child that they “did the best job in the world!” when cleaning their room.
Although this may sound like good praise to receive, in some cases, it can actually promote anxiety in the child because they know that it does not match what they have done.
As the child grows older, they will quickly learn to ignore overblown or exaggerated praise because they know that it does not represent an accurate representation of reality. This may then result in them rejecting all forms of praise as an adult, and find it very hard to accept compliments that people give them.
Global praise involves an overuse of praise where a child is praised for everything they do. At best, this does not work. At worst, it may backfire and create an “approval addict” who learns to seek approval for everything they do and will feel extremely upset or rejected when they don’t receive any praise.
Global praise can also quickly lose its effect, as when a person becomes used to receiving praise all the time, the praise that they do receive has little effect on them although it is still secretly wanted and welcomed.
This would be similar to how a very attractive woman is constantly being told by men how beautiful she looks. Because she hears such comments all the time, they have seemingly little effect on her because they are expected and thus taken for granted. But if she were not to receive those compliments from other men, she would quickly feel down and depressed.
All three of these types of praise; generalized, overblown and global, may have a negative effect on the developing child and can result in a lack of self-reliance and dependency in their adult years.
The best type of praise to give a child is factual and descriptive praise which is followed immediately after a given behavior or action. For example, factual praise would be something like “Excellent, now the books are put away neatly they will be easy for other people to find them. Good work!”
The more specifically targeted the praise, the more meaningful it will be to the child because they will know exactly what they are being praised for. School teachers are commonly taught this method of praise, as it tends to promote independence, free thinking and avoids the pressures of being judged.
In order for this type of praise to be effective however, it must be given soon after the behavior or action you wish to encourage for the future. It must also be proportional to what was done, as otherwise that praise will lose its effect as the child grows older.
The opposite to praise is criticism or no praise at all. For a child who was heavily criticized for everything they did, or not praised for the good things they did, the consequences on that child’s self-esteem can be devastating.
A child who is frequently criticized will soon learn to doubt themselves and will form a belief that they are incapable of doing anything right or well as a result. This will then lead to low levels of confidence and self-worth later in life, in addition to self sabotaging behaviors that limit the success they are able to achieve.
A common outcome that is often seen in people who did not receive much praise as children, is that they will reject or minimize the significance of any praise which they receive.
For example, if you tell them that they did a “good job” they will say “it was nothing” or something to that effect. Such comments are usually a good indication that a person has low levels of self-esteem and self acceptance, because by rejecting praise, they are essentially telling you that they don’t feel worthy or deserving enough to receive it.
How well do you handle praise?
How you are able to handle praise gives you a good insight into the type of beliefs that you have in your subconscious mind. If you reject praise or find it hard to accept, then you most likely have negative limiting beliefs that are holding you back from reaching your true potential in life.
This is because subconsciously you feel worthy of a having a certain amount of success or happiness. But anything that you achieve above that level, your subconscious will try to bring you back to the level you subconsciously feel worthy and deserving of by causing you to engage in self sabotaging behaviors.
Although you likely have many beliefs which you need to change, you can make a start by learning to accept praise better if this is something which you currently find difficult. Fortunately, this is quite easy to do.
All that needs to be done is to accept the praise that a person gives you without minimizing it and/or putting yourself down in the process. Once you have successfully received that praise, you should then mentally state to yourself that you are worthy and deserving of it.
By doing this simple exercise, you will send a powerful message to your subconscious that you are a worthy and deserving person. This in turn will give you a massive boost to your levels of self acceptance, self-importance and self-respect.
Make the most of what you get
Not all praise is equal. Some of us received praise that was good for us, some received bad or ineffective praise and others received no praise or were criticized instead. Whilst you cannot change the type of praise you received as a child, you can change the way that you handle praise in the future.
But remember, people will not praise you as often as your parents did. So when you do receive praise, be sure to make the most of it and absorb every bit of it into your subconscious. The idea is to use this praise to form beliefs that will empower and enrich your life, rather than creating beliefs which will hinder and restrict it.