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This is not something that is often or openly talked about –the fact that a lot of people carry a lot of trauma and emotional wounds from having a toxic parent. Sadly, if a victim does not properly heal and unlearn all the toxicity which they subconsciously absorbed by growing up with toxic parents, it is very likely the victim will also grow up being a toxic parent.

Because of the traditional fear-based society in which we find ourselves, a lot of people do not even realise that some of the things their parents did and still do to them can be described as abusive or toxic behavior.

Examples of parental toxic behavior include: constantly embarrassing your adult child in public by speaking roughly to them; constantly criticizing everything they do; never praising their achievements; calling them negative names; and just generally being mean.

Now, you may read this and think, “that’s not toxic my parents or mom or dad raised me this way and I know they love me and it’s just talk blablabla….” But that’s one of the things about being a toxic parent; you don’t often know you are one.

Contrary to what many believe, this isn’t just talk. Raising a child in a negative environment could result in them suffering low self esteem, anxiety, and timidity.

Whenever you come across an adult who doesn’t always express themselves with confidence or is always fidgeting even amongst their peers, it isn’t always shyness. Sometimes it could be that they struggle with speaking up as result of having being harshly shut down by their parents over the years or, in most cases, were constantly told how dumb or dull they were. After children hear things like these for a while, they begin to believe them, and they, in turn, affect their confidence and self esteem.

I once had a classmate in secondary school who was very shy and timid; hardly ever talked in school and was okay observing everyone from the sidelines. Everyone called him a shy boy because even getting him look you in the face during conversations was a huge task.  Years after school we reconnected on social media and surprisingly he seemed more confident but on getting closer I realized he only learnt how to hide it better and now it was even worse, it had grown from just shyness to a full blown low self esteem. Probing further I found out he had been the victim of growing with a toxic father, his father was constantly criticizing him and putting him down to the point that he was sure his father hated him. As at the time we reconnected he was almost in his 30’s but was still very much under his father’s control, didn’t ever have any opinion of his own, didn’t know himself. This is a prime example of how being a toxic parent can mess up a child.

Now for parents and soon-to-be parents out there who want to begin working on being better parents, below are a few ways to avoid being a toxic parent to your kids:


Any form of abuse is toxic, abuse isn’t only limited to the more common forms like physical and sexual abuse, it also includes verbal abuse which an alarming parentage of African parents are guilty of. Yes we may all laugh at how our mother called us names when we did something annoying, but verbal abuse goes deeper than that. Verbal abuse is when a parent deliberately uses words that hurt their child and negatively affect their sense of self worth. A friend of mine once revealed how he didn’t believe he was ever going to amount to anything because his mother kept telling him he was dull and would end up a useless womanizer just like his father.

I know a beautiful talented young lady who doesn’t believe she is pretty because her father would constantly tell her she was ugly. She believes him and it has affected her relationships and self esteem. Verbal abuse may not leave any physical scars but it definitely leaves deep emotional and psychological scars that may never heal or take yrs of deliberate unlearning to get rid of.


Parents mostly criticize their children because they wrongly assume that’s the best way to get them to improve without realizing the impact of their constant criticism on the psyche of their child. Instead of criticizing your children why not praise them instead? Before pointing out what they are doing wrong first praise them for what they did right then proceed to give them practical pointers on how to improve in the areas they may be lacking.

Keep in mind that as a parent, you are a guide for your children; your duty is to guide and teach them until they are old enough to be independent. So use kind words, don’t say things like: “you don’t know anything,” “olodo,” “useless child” and all those harmful words.  Use affirming and encouraging words like: “you are doing great”, “wow good job,” “why don’t I show you a better way to do this” etc…

Harshly criticizing your kids will make them fear you and not have the confidence to confide in you when they have made a mistake. You do not want that.


I know this may sound funny but there are parents who keep malice with their kids and expect the child to be the person to resolve the conflict even though the parent is the older person. This is a very toxic behavior. Being a parent doesn’t mean you are always right, sometimes you could be wrong and you must teach your kids by example that the right thing to do when you are wrong is to apologize.

Remember that kids learn by observation, they will do what you do not what you say. Do not let your ego get in the way of your relationship with your kids; endeavour to develop a conflict resolution system between you as a parent and your kids. When there is a misunderstanding, take out time to calm yourself and be in control of your emotions, and then proceed to have a conversation with your child explaining things and giving them an opportunity to tell their side. This will not only improve the peace in your home, but will also create a closer bond between you and your kids.

Finally, being a toxic parent may cost you your relationship with your kids, as children who have toxic parents may decide to keep away from the toxic parent(s) for their peace of mind.  Parenting is tough and it may take some time to unlearn all the toxic behaviors you may have picked while growing up, but you must make an effort to do better than your parents.

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1 Comment

Flora Ndiwe · May 14, 2019 at 5:51 am

This is a beautiful article. I really think more people need to read this

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