An expert says if you do any of these things as a parent, you're 'messing up' your child.

I have a confession, it seems I ‘messed up’ my children and I had no idea.

According to a group of ‘experts’, psychologists and psychiatrists I have caused an array of potentially long term, damaging effects to my children, all while doing what I thought was my parenting best.

So, what are these cruel, horrific, damaging things I have inflicted upon my two children I hear you ask? Please find below the 101 on how to ‘mess up’ your kid:

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1. Threatening to leave your kids behind.

I’m sorry (not sorry) but if threatening your kids with leaving them at home, in the car, at school, at the shop, at a friend’s house, really anywhere isn’t a prerequisite of parenting (not to mention the need to keep to some sort of schedule) then I don’t know what is.

Dr. L. Alan Sroufe, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development, told The Atlantic, “threatening your child with abandonment, even in seemingly light-hearted ways, can shake the foundation of security and well-being that you represent.”

Luckily for most of us, Mamamia spoke to Clinical Psychologist, Dr Judith Lock, who wasn’t as concerned with our cruelty.


“It is fine to do this, just don’t do it all the time,” Dr Locke said. “It does depend on the background and history of the child though, if there is some sort of trauma or history of abandonment or neglect it could definitely be harmful.”

But with a child who has grown up in a loving environment, doing this once every so often is perfectly harmless, Dr Locke insisted.

2. Lying to your child.

Honesty is the best policy, so they say. As parents we must always tell our children the truth. Well, at least according to Professor Sroufe.

“A simple but extremely important rule of thumb in child rearing is, Don’t lie to your child,” Professor Sroufe said.

“The next time you’re tempted to tell a little lie or otherwise bend the truth, consider another way: it is an opportunity to grow. Embrace the truth and help your child work through the confusing feelings. It will be much better for their health over the long term.”


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While I agree with the professor to an extent, my parenting mind does track back to the time I explained the unpleasant passing of a family member with a much more basic and positive explanation than the reality of it.

While still acknowledging the death, the reason behind it I deemed unwarranted for a four and six-year-old to hear, so the truth was not ‘embraced’ and a ‘white lie’ was executed.

“Telling kids, the ‘perfect truth’ introduces concepts too complex for their age, maturity and understanding. While regularly lying to kids is not ideal the truths and explanations need to be age appropriate. We need do avoid ‘adultifying’ them,” Dr Locke said.

Her argument is that sometimes the events or concepts that happen in life are “beyond them”. Using “age appropriate explanation, using a softer way to explain things” can be a better choice, Dr Locke believes.

3. Ignoring your own bad behaviour.

If you are an adult/parent who: smokes, swears, drinks, gambles, comfort eats, stands on the scales, complains about their appearance or spends too much money, you are apparently messing up your kids.

Child development expert Dr. David Elkind, professor emeritus of child development at Tufts University, believes “modelling the behaviour we want is one of the best things we as parents can do.


“What you do matters a lot more than what you say your child should do. Children absorb everything around them, and they are exceptionally sponge-like in their capacity to learn and mirror both good and bad behaviours from the time they are very young.”

Well, I better pop the bubbles down and put my scratchie back in my purse because I don’t want my kids to scratchie scratching alcoholics.

“The jury is out on whether children automatically inherit their parent’s bad habits,” Dr Locke said.

According to Locke ‘bad behaviour’ can actually have the opposite effect. For example, many children of smokers actually choose not to smoke because of witnessing their parents habit (something I can personally vouch for).

“Parents shouldn’t feel guilty for living adult lives. We shouldn’t put pressure on ourselves to live perfect lives,” she told Mamamia.

While I have exaggerated for impact here, the main point is that as long as we aren’t doing these ‘bad behaviours’ all the time and to excess, we aren’t messing up our kids, no matter what some ‘experts’ say.

What have you done that is considered ‘messing up’ your kids? Tell us about it in the comment section below.

H/T The Atlantic.

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer from Victoria. Shona is usually busy writing and raising her children: three goats, two cats and two humans. You can follow her on Instagram: