5 Parenting Mistakes That Cause Childhood Trauma

What do you feel when you think about your childhood? Do you think of it as a happy place you’d give anything to get back to, or would you rather pretend it never happened?

Unfortunately, sometimes parents are not the ones who know best, and the choices they make while raising their children can leave their children traumatised. 

Sometimes these mistakes they make are really honest, accidental mistakes, made because they don’t really know better, but sometimes they can be a result of simply not caring enough.

Whatever the reason is, the result is often the same – an unhappy child, bringing their unhappiness with them to adulthood.

Here are some of the mistakes parents make that can leave their children traumatised.

1. Fighting in front of children

Do you remember your parents fighting in front of you when you were a kid? Unfortunately, this is true for many of us. 

Arguing is a normal and healthy aspect of a relationship, like disagreeing about washing the dishes. But sometimes it is not about the dishes and it is not a disagreement, but a full blown fight, together with yelling, name calling and sometimes even violent behaviors like throwing or punching stuff.

It all gets even worse when they choose to ignore a child sitting in front of them, or listening to them through the walls of their rooms. Parent’s relationship, and especially if they fight a lot, can greatly impact a child’s wellbeing.

A study from University of Oregon shows that negative effects of a parent’s fight can impact children as young as 6 months old, and of course, negative impacts go from infancy to adolescence. Listening or watching their parents argue can cause insecurity, negatively impact parent-child relationship, and create a stressful environment in which a child has little opportunity to grow happily. And when they do grow, they still have to deal with long term effects of the trauma they went through: being more prone to experience depression and anxiety, difficulty regulating their attention and emotions, dropping out of school, having unhealthy relationships and attachment problems, and also some physical issues like difficulty sleeping or eating.

2. Using corporal punishment

Corporal punishment is physical abuse desperately trying to hide under the mask of discipline.

How many times have you heard a parent talk about how they “discipline” their children by spanking them, pulling their ears, hitting them with a belt or throwing things at them? And how many times have you heard grown people telling stories how they were “physically disciplined” as children, and they turned out “just fine”?

Maybe they think they turned out fine, but that is not the case for many people that still suffer from the consequences of their parents’ “discipline”. And no matter what stance parents take, professionals strongly advise against this type of punishment.  

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents and caregivers to refrain from using corporal punishment and try heathy forms of discipline instead. Studies have shown that corporal punishment is innefective in the long run, could possibly make the behavior even worse, damage the relationship with a child and their parents and increase aggresive behavior. Also, a 2012 study on US sampled show that corporal punishment with an increased risk for mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and personality disorders.

3. Playing favorites

Were your brother or sister a “golden, favorite child” of your family? 

Favoritism is something that happens often in families with more siblings, whether parents don’t even notice they are treating one child better, or whether they do it on purpose. Maybe they praise one of their kids more, maybe they allow them stuff they don’t allow their other children, maybe they give their “favorite” child more attention or maybe they just like them more…

No matter how it’s displayed or the reason behind it, as much as the favorite child feels good about themselves, that’s how much the other child feels bad. Being constantly compared to your sibling in a bad way can make them think they don’t matter as much. They might think they can’t live up to the high standards or like their family would feel happier without them.

Those feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem are not reserved only for their childhood – once they reach adulthood, unresolved problems from their past can impact their friendships, romantic relationships, and ultimately even relationship with their own children.

4. Emotional neglect

Emotional neglect happens when a parent fails to adequately respond to their child’s emotional needs. It is different from emotional abuse in a way that neglecting emotional needs that children have may not happen intentionally. Emotionally neglected children may have everything they need taken care of (like food, shelter and health care), but when it comes to their feelings, their parents can be distant and unattentive. 

For example, a child might be harassed in school by their peers. Naturally, they want to tell their parents and ask for their help, but instead of offering them advice and comfort, their parents tell them they should just ignore it and not talk about it anymore. They fail to acknowledge their child’s emotional needs, and they leave their child to take care of their problems on their own, without even listening to them.

As time goes by, those children might stop asking for advice and internalise their problems further. They might also have a risk of developmental delays, low self-esteem, and they withdraw from friends and activities. 
This trauma continues until adulthood, when they can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, emotional unavailability, and very often they struggle with trust, which leads to all kinds of problems when they try to have a family of their own.

5. Empasizing good grades too much

Every parent wants their children to do well in school, and encouraging and helpful parents can make their children achieve this easily! But sometimes parents cross a line between being healthily encouraging, and instead become obsessed with their kids’ grades, making it the centre of their worlds.

A study from Arizona State University in 2016 showed that  too much pressure when it comes to good grades could be counterproductive. Parents who put too much focus on grades are indirectly minimising the importance of social skills and compassion, which can make children fail at becoming well-adjusted individuals and contributing members of society. More importantly, when parent put such pressure on their kids during the formative years of children, they’re causing high stress levels and anxiety.

As a result, children whose parents kept pushing them to achieve even better than they could were more likely to experience negative outcomes, such as depression, anxiety, lower self-esteem, behavior problems, criticism from parents, learning problems as well as lower grades, and it makes them miss out on the best time of their lives because they spend their time studying behind closed doors, trying to reach unreachable expectations.

Closing thoughts

If you’re a parent reading this, hopefully you’re not making these mistakes. But if you did find yourself in some of these points, maybe you should keep an open mind for some changes when it comes to raising your children. If you feel a bit stuck and unsure how to handle your kids, talking to a professional could help you give your children what they need, while also help you deal with all of the complex feelings parenting brings upon you. 

What’s most important is to learn from your mistakes. Once you do that, you can prevent your kids from suffering and give them the best childhood they could ask for!

Good luck and thank you for reading!

Written by: Stela Košić

If you wish to find out more about topics on childhood trauma, feel free to check out some of the videos from Psych2Go’s YouTube channel:


  • Campbell, L. (2019, April 12). What Happens to Kids When Parents Play Favorites? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/what-happens-to-kids-when-parents-play-favorites#The-negative-effects
  • Glicksman, E. (2019). Physical discipline is harmful and ineffective. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/05/physical-discipline
  • Harold, G. (2018, April 2). How parents’ arguments really affect their children. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/education-43486641
  • Holland, K. (2021, October 21). Childhood Emotional Neglect: How It Can Impact You Now and Later. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/childhood-emotional-neglect#effects-in-adulthood
  • How Pressuring Kids to Get Good Grades Can Have a Negative Impact. (2020, April 14). Verywell Family. https://www.verywellfamily.com/cons-of-pressuring-kids-to-get-good-grades-4117600
  • How Staying Together for the Kids Could Hurt Your Child’s Mental Health. (2019, November 12). Verywell Family. https://www.verywellfamily.com/how-parents-fighting-affects-children-s-mental-health-4158375#diminishing-the-effects
  • Media Relations. (2015, April 3). Arguments in the home linked with babies’ brain functioning. https://uonews.uoregon.edu/archive/news-release/2013/3/arguments-home-linked-babies-brain-functioning
  • Nauert, R., PhD. (2016, December 1). Parents Should Not Put Too Much Pressure on Kids. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/news/2016/12/01/parents-should-not-put-too-much-pressure-on-kids#4
  • Surprising Facts About Spanking and Corporal Punishment. (2020, August 7). Verywell Family. https://www.verywellfamily.com/facts-about-corporal-punishment-1094806#consequences

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