Parents playing a game with their children.

6 Ways Parents Affect a Child’s Mental Health

Parenting is not an easy job. There are endless things to think about and keep track of when you have children. Aside from the obvious ways that having a child impacts your life (like sleep deprivation), there are also mental health factors that come into play — and those factors ultimately affect your children. In fact, our interactions can have a profound impact on each child’s mental health as well as their emotional well-being for the rest of their lives. Let’s look at how parents affect mental health of children — and what you can do to ensure their well-being.

Disclaimer: This blog covers general ways that parents can negatively impact their children’s mental health and does not intend to give medical advice. If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health, see a mental health care provider for diagnosis and treatment plans. 


Before we get into how caregiver behavior affects a child’s mental health, it’s important to recognize the aspects that are beyond our control. Genetic factors play a major role in mental illness, but they are not the only cause. Genetic predisposition plays a significant role in whether or not you develop a mental health disorder.

Studies have shown that parental mental illness not only affects a child’s mental health but their physical health, as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 in 14 children whose parent or caregiver has poor mental health reported worse general health, including mental, emotional, or developmental issues.

Mental health conditions are common in multiple family members due to genetic factors, so children of parents with poor mental health automatically have a higher risk of developing a mental health problem like depression, anxiety disorder, or bipolar disorder.

2. Parenting Style

Because young children are in a delicate stage of brain development, it’s easy to see how parent actions and behaviors can have negative effects on their child’s mental well-being. A recent study showed that parents who often yelled or shouted excessively during child development increased their child’s risk of mental health or behavioral issues.

While negative parenting is a risk factor for poor mental health as children grow, it’s difficult to adjust this behavior, especially when parents or caregivers are unsure how to react to their children’s behavior. If your child is repeatedly acting out, it may be time to seek mental health care for an evaluation so that a professional can get to the bottom of it — and so you don’t have to keep yelling or disciplining your child while getting nowhere.

3. Parental Depression

Depression can have a profound effect on how parents interact with their children, especially in the early years of child development. Depression is characterized by feelings of sadness and hopelessness that can make it difficult to respond appropriately to their infant’s or child’s needs. Furthermore, depression may cause parents to withdraw from their child emotionally or physically — a phenomenon known as “emotional neglect.”

Emotional neglect not only affects children when they are growing up but can follow them when they are young adults. Emotional neglect from parents can lead to anxiety disorders, depression, hyperactivity disorders, developmental delay, low self-esteem, and substance use.

Because parents’ mental health problems can affect the child’s mental health, self-esteem, and emotional well-being, it is important to seek mental health services to better yourself and help your kid’s future.

4. Adverse Childhood Experiences

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) refer to a set of stressful or traumatic events that occur during childhood. These experiences can significantly impact a person’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being throughout their life. The concept of ACEs originated from a research study conducted by the CDC.

ACE Categories:

    • Physical abuse
    • Emotional abuse
    • Sexual abuse
    • Neglect
    • Household dysfunction

Research has shown that individuals who experience a higher number of ACEs are at an increased risk for a range of health and social problems, including mental health issues, substance abuse, and chronic diseases. The ACEs framework emphasizes the importance of understanding and addressing childhood adversity to promote long-term health and well-being. Interventions often focus on providing support, education, and resources to individuals and families to mitigate the impact of these adverse experiences.

Note: Adverse childhood experiences can come from anyone anywhere, not just from parents.

5. Modeling Behavior

Children monitor the adults around them. So, it is common for your children to observe and mimic the behaviors that they see their parents doing — both good and bad.

Positive role modeling includes reading with your children, playing games and sports with them, helping them with school work, encouraging them when trying something new, and praising effort rather than perfectionism. Leading by example and showing them positive examples of self-care is another way to help them manage stressors as they age.

Negative role modeling includes yelling at kids for making mistakes, getting frustrated if they don’t understand something, or not providing them with the emotional support they need. Demonstrating unhealthy behaviors like substance abuse, poor coping mechanisms, and more all have a negative impact on young people and children’s mental health as they grow up.

Taking care of yourself is important, as it affects the whole family’s mental wellness. If you struggle with your mental health, odds are your children are struggling, as well.

6. Permissive Parenting

Permissive parenting is a parenting style characterized by high levels of warmth and responsiveness but low levels of control or demands. While permissive parenting can have some positive aspects, it also comes with several potential problems or challenges that may impact a child’s development.

While strict and authoritarian parenting can also negatively impact children, the lack of rules and discipline can also lead to issues such as a lack of self-control or impulse control, difficulty with boundaries, an increased sense of entitlement, and poor academic performance. Children need both support and structure, so too much of one and not enough of the other can lead to behavioral problems.

The Importance of Mental Health Care

Parents are the most important role models in a child’s life, which correlates directly with their children’s mental health. The way you treat your children and interact with them has a huge impact on their future mental health and well-being. If you notice any signs of mental illness in yourself or other family members, please seek help from a mental health care provider to prevent these problems from getting worse!