Does a parent’s behaviour affect a child’s development?

In this blog we will discuss whether parents’ behaviours affect a child’s development.

We will briefly look into how parenting styles, neglect, and aggression or abusive behaviours in parents impact the development of a child. 

Does a parent’s behaviour affect a child’s development?

Yes, parent behaviour does affect a child’s psychosocial development extensively. 

The impact parent’s behaviours and parenting styles have on children’s development has been widely and extensively studied by researchers that have unanimously agreed that parents do have an impact on their child’s development. 

One of the first research and therapy on the impact parents and humans have on each other was by Behaviourist Albert Bandura who developed the Social learning theory.

Social learning theory proposes that human beings learn about themselves and the world from each other. The theory emphasises that people learn by observing, modelling, and imitating the behaviours, attitudes, and emotional reactions of other people.

Children when they are born are immediately introduced to the behaviours, beliefs, and attitudes of their parents because their parents are the primary caregivers who are the first people within their world. 

So the idea of the world that people tend to form first and foremost is based on their parent’s behaviours and attitudes, beliefs and values. 

As the child begins to understand the world around them by the way their parents behave, they also begin to develop cognitively and thus form their understanding of themselves based on what they are observing. 

Their ideas of who they are, their values, their sense of worth as individuals, their beliefs, and their understanding of their own emotions, abilities, intellect, and their attachment to other people are all based on what they internalised by watching and observing their parents. 

This particular view of human learning and development is what the Social learning theory is based on and it considers how both environmental and cognitive factors interact to influence human development. 

Parental neglect

According to the Centre on the Developing Child by Harvard University, “…the absence of responsive relationships poses a serious threat to a child’s development and well-being.”

This means that the well being and development of a child is impacted when they are neglected by their caregivers or their parents. 

Research finds that limited responsiveness of a caregiver or neglect is often linked to adverse physical and mental health consequences which include cognitive delays, stunting of physical growth, impairments in executive function like decision making and planning, as well as self-regulation skills.

This means that a child who has been neglected will most likely expecine cognitive developmental delays when compared to children their age in terms of language acquisition or ability to retain information and use information for new situations. 

This will result in poor academic and professional performance as well as the development of mental disorders that are observed and diagnosed in early childhood such as Neurodevelopmental motor dysfunction or learning disabilities. 

Neglect can als be linked to malnutrition in children and deficits in nutrition and needing vitamins which can impact neurological development as well as other physical developmental areas leading to shunted growth, weaker immune systems, and neurological disorders. 

Children who have been neglected may also find it difficult to manage their day to day life and also experience deficits in skills that their peers are able to do such as managing their care and grooming, ability to plan and manage their day and as teenagers they might have a hard time making decisions.

A study on how parenting styles impacted self-regulation in terms of substance abused found that permissive parenting styles of neglectful parenting styles was associated with higher risk of weaker drinking control where as authoritative parenting were linked to between self regulation. 

It is also possible that neglect can impact the ability of a child to self regulate their emotions, their behaviours, and their overall disposition which can carry on to adulthood causing problems and dysfunctions in their relationships as well as their careers. 

Parental aggression and violence

Parental aggression or aggressive behaviours of parents such as physical violence as well as verbal violence can be detrimental to the development of a child. 

According to Nationwide Children’s, Physical violence, abuse and aggression towards children or between parents can lead to  

  • Low self-esteem
  • Excessive fear and anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • An inability to concentrate (including ADHD)
  • Hostility towards others, even friends and family members
  • Depression
  • Apathy and lethargy
  • Aggression
  • Sleep issues – insomnia, excessive sleepiness

This can impact the ability of a child to live a healthy life instead they are impacted with low self esteem that impacts their ability to perform well in school and their workplace, form healthy relationships, and lead a healthy and fulfilled life. 

Aggressive behaviours in parents can also lead children to develop anxiety and fear which can further develop into PTSD that severely causes impairment and dysfunctioning in their lives. 

It can also impair their ability to develop healthy relationships with other people and lead them to also develop mistrust and aggression towards other people. 

The effect yelling or verbal abuse has on children is very less understood or known because of the misconception that yelling is not a form of abuse.

However, with plenty of research that has been done on yelling- by parents on children or random strangers on to other people- it has become much clearer that yelling does have an effect on the individual not just in terms of psychology but also in brain activity. 

The NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illnesses, explained that when an individual is being frequently exposed to aggression- physical or verbal- there is a potential of the brain being affected. Specifically, the activity of the amygdala being affected leading to a rise in stress hormone cortisol. 

When there is a rise in the levels of cortisol in the body, the effect of it is noticeable- it impacts the individual in terms of physiologically, mentally, and emotionally. 

These changes manifest in children in the way they think, feel, and behave towards themselves as well as towards other people- and this often persists into adulthood. 

Yelling by parents onto children often leads to the threats of two of the fundamental psychological needs according to Abraham Maslow, a humanistic psychologist- the need for safety and security as well as the need for love and belongingness. 

It is this that impacts an individual’s healthy development into individuals that are well rounded and secure in the way they lead lives. These negative experiences of being yelled at also form negative cognitive schemas and beliefs about one’s self that often leads to the child struggling with self esteem issues, issues related to attachment that manifest in adult relationships, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. 

According to a study done on the parenting styles of an international population and it’s impact on child behavior, it has been observed that yelling and other forms of corporal punishment in parenting had dire impact on the child.

The results being that yelling were found to be related to more aggression- physically and verbally- in the child themselves towards other people around them. This could be explained by a lot of things, one being that children model behaviour of individuals around them who are significant to them- such as parents. 

When the yelling includes put downs and criticisms related to the child’s character, abilities, worth etc such as “You are stupid.” “you are good for nothing” etc- it counts as emotional abuse and there has been plenty of research that illustrates that emotional abuse has a direct impact on the child’s psychological health. 

Conclusion

In this blog we discussed whether parents’ behaviours affect a child’s development.

We briefly look into how parenting styles, neglect, and aggression or abusive behaviours in parents impact the development of a child. 

FAQ related to Does a parent’s behaviour affect a child’s development?

How do emotions affect children’s behaviour?

Children tend to have a hard time understanding emotions and expressing them because their brains are not well equipped or developed. So they might have a hard time understanding why they are hurt or sad. 

When the concept of emotions and regulating emotions are not modelled or taught to them, the child might express it in the only ways they know now- by throwing tantrums and behaving in angry disrespectful ways.

What affects a child’s behaviour the most during childhood?

A child’s behaviour is most affected by the world around him and the people in his life. 

Children when they are born are immediately introduced to the behaviours, beliefs, and attitudes of their parents because their parents are the primary caregivers who are the first people within their world. 

So the idea of the world that people tend to form first and foremost is based on their parent’s behaviours and attitudes, beliefs and values. As they learn the world around them and abou themselves, their behaviours become a reflection of their learning. 

What is the most psychologically damaging thing you can say to a child?

According to Mirror.UK, telling lies to your child could be the most psychologically damaging thing one can say to a child especially when the lies are repeated it can affect a child;s ability to trust others and form healthy relationships with other people. 

What affects a child’s behaviour?

Factors such as cognitive neurodevelopment, self skills, Parental adjustment, parenting styles, family and school environment, Peer behaviour, Self Confidence as well as play- are all important factors that affect a child’s behaviour.

How does conflict impact a child’s development?

According to Nationwide Children’s, Physical violence, abuse and aggression towards children or between parents can lead to  

  • Low self-esteem
  • Excessive fear and anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • An inability to concentrate (including ADHD)
  • Hostility towards others, even friends and family members
  • Depression
  • Apathy and lethargy
  • Aggression
  • Sleep issues – insomnia, excessive sleepiness

What are toxic things parents say?

Criticisms related to the child’s character, abilities, worth etc such as “You are stupid.” “you are good for nothing” etc- are toxic and count as emotional abuse.

There has been plenty of research that illustrates that emotional abuse has a direct impact on the child’s psychological health and development. 

References

McLeod, S. A. (2016, February 05). Bandura – social learning theory. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/bandura.html

Patock-Peckham JA, Cheong J, Balhorn ME, Nagoshi CT. A social learning perspective: a model of parenting styles, self-regulation, perceived drinking control, and alcohol use and problems. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2001 Sep;25(9):1284-92. PMID: 11584147.

Neglect. Centre on the Developing Child Harvard. Retrieved on 23rd March 2022. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/deep-dives/neglect/

Cherry.K. How Social Learning Theory Works. Verywellmind. Retrieved on 20th March 2022.https://www.verywellmind.com/social-learning-theory-2795074

Hendell.H.J. The Problem with Yelling. NAMI. Retrieved on 13th Feb 2022. https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/February-2018/The-Problem-with-Yelling

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