How A Parent's Behaviour Can Affect A Child's Mental Health

Do you scold your child for the smallest of mistakes? Do you wonder if you have her trust? Find out what your style of parenting might be doing to her mental health.

By Padma Shri Dr Kamini Rao

How A Parent's Behaviour Can Affect A Child's Mental Health

It is a universally acknowledged truth that parenting is no mean feat. It is a challenging full time job. Parenting is a long-term investment. From talking and reading to infants, to making values clear (best done in conversations around the dinner table), parents exert enormous influence over their children's development. They are, however, not the only influences, especially after children enter school. It is especially important that parents give children a good start, but it's also important for parents to recognize that kids come into the world with their own temperaments, and it is the parents' responsibility to provide an interface with the world that eventually prepares a child for complete independence.

And this is where most of our parents go wrong. Most parents can’t bear the thought of their child committing mistakes. They consider those mistakes as a failure of 'good parenting' from their part. Let us look at this differently. No one learns to walk without falling down. Smothering our children too much can only result in the exact opposite effect of what we aim to achieve. Parenting shouldn’t be approached with a perfectionist attitude. Instead, as parents we should aim at providing children with their own space in this world, letting them choose what they like in life and in every way mould them in the way they want their life to be and not how you want it to be.

Related video: Dr Nandini Mundkur on How Parenting Style Impacts A Child's Behaviour

But what does a typical parent do? The child makes a small mistake and all the hell breaks loose. You scold her/him before others, draw comparisons with other supposedly bright children and in every way attempt to bring their self esteem down. This will only further de-motivate them, striving to be the perfect child and perpetually failing to rise up to the parents expectations.

Previously, depression was not commonly found in youth. However, today, even school kids are victims of depression. Depression, according to science is a brain disorder characterised by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life. And in severe cases, it can lead to self harm and even suicide attempts. Several factors like genetics, biochemistry, and personality, environmental and social factors play an important role. Recent studies reveal, between 15-20% of teens will have a depressive episode before they reach adulthood. Depression is also more likely to reoccur throughout the life of someone who experiences it first as a child or adolescent. A common myth is that this illness has just started to develop over the last few decades or that it only happens to certain people and in certain parts of the world. However, depression is one of the oldest and well documented illnesses in history and impacts all types of individuals, everywhere.

It's impossible to say how important parenting is relative to other factors that might influence depression and anxiety, like bullying at school, peer pressure, performance at school etc. Youngsters’ whose parents tend to fight with each other or are over involved in their kids' lives are at increased risk of depression and anxiety. Genes, family history of mental health problems, poverty and ethnicity have been independently linked to teen mood disorders, and those are basically immutable. But parenting is something that can be altered.

Four categories of parenting styles

Authoritative

This type of parenting is the most effective and beneficial for both parents and children. The parent may come across as someone who expects highly of others, but when it comes to understanding their children’s needs, they manage their expectations to be supportive of their children’s decisions. This helps both maintain a cordial relationship while giving space for understanding each other’s lives.

Neglectful

This type of parenting has a harmful effect on children. The parent may be neglecting the child completely, which could, in turn, affect the child in forming relationships with the world outside of home. The child may have a hard time trusting others due to lack of proper communication and support at home.

Permissive

This type of parenting could be potentially damaging due to its lack of structure. These parents can be indulgent but not demanding of their children. This gives the children the opportunity to take things lightly and not be serious in certain elements of life. Some parents are afraid to upset their children, which could blur the line between parent-child relations.

Authoritarian

This type of parenting, also known as strict parenting, is defined by the lack of freedom and thought for the child. The parent imposes strict rules and expects highly of their children which, in turn, compromises the child's personality. The child is held captive by the expectations of the parent which diminishes his desire to act freely and understand themselves.

And most Indian parents are of type 2. They decide for their children and force their decisions upon them. Also, many studies conducted show that depression is higher in children whose parents were of the authoritative type.

It is time we changed our perception of today’s youngsters. Gone are the days when being young meant being carefree. In today’s competitive world, they have their own aspirations and self-decided milestones to achieve. Influence them rather than make up their minds for them, help them take those small steps towards self dependence. And most importantly, tell them you love them. Accept them when they admit their mistakes. Most importantly, teach them to love themselves and make themselves happy, because the best person that can make you happy is yourself. Tell them that the road to self-discovery and acceptance is very long, but miles are covered one step at a time.

Let’s be a little patient with understanding the younger generation, so that our children don’t think twice while asking us for help. And most importantly, respect the identity of your children. Become more responsive, understand them and laugh with them and not at them, because there is nothing more beautiful in this world than your child’s smiling face.