The Childish Parent

Variations in parenting style fascinate me. Not only because many people are so intense about the rightness of their method, but also because the results of each parenting style gives us predictable outcomes – and so few people seem to realise that.

It seems to me, there are two general groups of Childish Parents. The first group is obvious to most of us. They clearly operate with the parents’ needs coming before the children’s. Sometimes this is because the parents are in survival mode, such as in a violent relationship – where the parents have no energy or emotional strength to give to their children. More often it’s rampant immaturity, where the parents are stuck in their toddler state. These people see basic boundaries around things like treat-foods or early bedtimes as being mean. Where as an Adult Parent might allow visits to the golden arches a few times a year, a Childish Parent will give in to their children’s every demand to go. Childish Parents might also continuously provide sweets, fizzy drinks and other junk foods, regardless if their children have mouths full of fillings or are overweight; or allow their children to go to bed later than is healthy, despite being constantly tired and grumpy or ill.

The second group of Childish Parents may not be so obvious. These parents also put their own needs first, but in a way which is often endorsed by others (including some parenting experts). These Childish Parents work very hard at fitting their children into [their vision of] society – rather than considering what is truly in their children’s best interests. The parents have a personal need to appear to be doing the right thing, and this need out-weighs any questioning of the advice they follow. Their young children are often involved in a multitude of formal adult led activities…dance, swimming, soccer, drama, singing, piano, gymnastics and so on – because that’s what other people are doing. These Childish Parents often have a dependency on electronics. Sometimes as a form of baby-sitter. Sometimes as a form of keeping up with the Jones’. Sometimes because the parents can’t manage without  constant electronic noise or visual stimulation themselves – so actually see nothing wrong in their children developing the same addiction. (And besides children make suce a fuss, when you take it all away…)

Childish Parents are non-supportive and/or intrusive with their children’s emotional needs. They will leave small children or babies to scream themselves to sleep, alone and in the dark. They’ll tell their children to harden-up or that they don’t feel sore..because they know better than the children…Some fuss when their children hurt themselves, so that the children become over-reactive to small injuries or annoyances.

Children, older than three and a half, with Adult Parents are mostly calm, obedient, kind, polite, brave, and able to entertain themselves (free of electronics) for hours at a time. [ and can make warm and constant eye-contact with their mothers.]

As someone said to me last week: parenting is a life sentence. Doing it well means years and years of putting another person before ourselves: every day; every hour sometimes. Children don’t conveniently stop needing us at 7.00pm because we need time out. They don’t understand the consequences of eating poorly or not getting enough sleep. Most of all, children aren’t preparing for life – they’re already living.

(Should you find this article useful, Koha is accepted, $1 is fine. The button is under my blog-roll.:))


About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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30 Responses to The Childish Parent

  1. hmm yes, the childish parent…
    I know children in primary school years who are calm, polite and entertain themselves, because they have childish parents. The children are so good, desparate for some praise. (read: attention) Of course, the other way the child can go is ‘naughty’ because being told off is attention too isn’t it?
    Childish parents can teach their children perfectionist tendancies (perfectionists: never being good enough) because the child thinks if I’m really good, do really well, they’re sure to notice this time…
    Breaks my heart.

    On the other side of that, I have noticed that we (in the general sense) tend to stop growing and developing if we hit a time in our life we don’t process. So, we continue being that level of maturity, because we don’t know how to move on to the next.

    hmm I’m feeling a response blog coming on…. will link you in if I do!!

    • kloppenmum says:

      Thanks for such a long response. I think of attention seeking as connection seeking myself, but that’s another whole blog!
      I know the kind of child you mean though, and will have to ponder. I could have added in that children with Adult Parents are also highly affectionate, but then many of those to whom you refer, are too. Perhaps the difference is in the eye-contact. Children with Adult Parents have naturally great eye-contact. I will anticipate your responding blog – lots of discussion coming up, I think!

  2. hakea says:

    Not sure where the control-freak ogre-ish parents fit in? They cause kids so much damage, stunt their growth every which way. I’ve seen a lot of kids with eating disorders due to overcontrolling mothers. Are these in the childish category?

    Technology is a tricky one. I pondered upon that topic in my “the week that’s been #1” post. There are positives and negatives, and it’s hard to strike a balance.

    • kloppenmum says:

      The control-freak parents are definitely childish…I’d put them with those who need to appear to be doing the right thing. These categories are very vague here…more detail to come at some stage this year.
      The technology issue almost always results in a response similar to yours. My response is: it’s not necessary, and probably detrimental, before the age of nine or 10. There was some great research out of Monash, I read, investigating the flattening of brainwaves while watching the screen. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find it again -otherwise I’d reference it.

  3. hakea says:

    In the 1960’s Diana Baumrind observed three parenting styles – authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. Martin and Maccoby later added another parenting style – uninvolved.

    It’s difficult to find any good references on the internet, that is free of modern psycho-babble. I like to go back to the source, the original papers by the theorist, but I’m a bit geeky. Any good child development text will have it eg, Laura Berk.

    Here is a taster:

    • kloppenmum says:

      Crikey, thanks for taking the time to find those links for me. I will check them out. I have heard of those three styles, and think there is a lot of value in that approach. However, I have focussed on the results of parenting and worked backwards. Call me a round peg!

  4. And I absolutely love your round peg approach.
    I am as guilty as sin, the tv is often a baby sitter for me while I organise dinner….. it is shocking. And i hate the fact that that is the case. But it is.

  5. Mama Bee says:

    “As someone said to me last week: parenting is a life sentence. Doing it well means years and years of putting another person before ourselves” so true. I think I have been through all the parenting styles at one point. But I am, hopefully, aware of what is happening around me and my kids are, thankfully, very vocal about how they are feeling. Great entry, really enjoyed reading it!

    • kloppenmum says:

      I have been known to get through every parenting style in a day! I certainly agree that it’s being aware of what we’re doing and where the children are at, that’s important. Pleased you enjoyed the post.

  6. Loi says:

    I read your post with interest and wondered what you’d think of my opinions 🙂 on a related by slightly different parenting issue

  7. Smitha says:

    Wonderful post! Kept nodding away as I read it. I can see shades of all the parenting techniques you have mentioned – apart from the parent who pampers the child’s every request.

    I guess understanding what we do, and how it could affect our children, is the only way to become a balanced parent.. Loved the way(and the topics) you write!

    • kloppenmum says:

      Thanks for the compliments. It was an encounter with an indulgent parent, which inspired me to write this blog…least said the better, but I don’t see many like that either. My whole mission is to understand how our actions impact on our children’s lives, and to cut through the BS in the parental advice industry. Pleased you enjoyed the blog.

  8. Pipi says:

    It’s funny (and also sad) to realize that many parents are using their children as a tool to increase their own self-esteem. Instead of just simply give as many love as possible, those childish parents are trying to “create” the perfect child that will bring acknowledgments from other parents. They’re stressed out when the child did not behave the way they want them to behave, and find excuses that usually doesn’t make any sense.

    That’s why I think as parents, we all need to stop giving a damn to what other people say, because we’re the ones who knows our child better than anyone else.

    • kloppenmum says:

      I agree with you 100% – there are many parents who depend on their children to boost their own self-esteem. It takes a strong Mum to ignore all the comments or sideways glances, when we do things differently, but I think that’s what we need to do.

  9. Caroline says:

    What about parents who are childish long after children become adults? Expecting their children to always have the same opinion, like/dislike the same people, or parents who show favoritism to one child over the others?

    • I wasn’t thinking of *those* parents when I wrote this – but you’re quite right. There are plenty of parents who think their adult-children ‘should’ think and do as they – or according to their idea of who their child is. I agree that the favouritism of one over the other is also a sign of childishness. Thanks for your comment. It made me think a little sideways, and I always like it when people do that! 🙂

  10. ecoziva says:

    Great post once again, thanks!

  11. vieruska says:

    Hey there,
    I just read your article and I wondered what would you recommend to people who had childish parents to “move on”, so to speak. I’m in my mid-20s and I still feel very much trapped by my parents, and only a couple of years ago I realized it’s in part because they are very childish, like your description. I’m still unsure if they forced me to be stronger (at a terrible relationship and self-esteem cost) or if they just broke me down. I guess both, but I wonder what to do about it.

    • Hi there,
      Thanks for respecting the post enough to ask such a big question. With out knowing you better, I am at a loss as to what is the best thing to do. Choosing to not engage with their dramas is probably a good place to start: if you google Karpman’s Drama Triangle, some of that information might help. Another thing to do, which might sound a bit out of left-field, is to take up yoga. Yoga allows our bodies to release any stored tension through waves of heat or even intense trembling. This is a way you can actually heal the wounds. Also, any new relationships take v.e.r.y. slowly. I am going to write about this last point more when I am back fulltime blogging, late Auguast/early Sept. I hope these ideas make sense and you can find something here to work with. All the very best, Karyn.

  12. Vanesa says:

    I would like to ask you do childish parents get more childish as their kids are growing up? Does it ever stop? I know it has a lot to do with their insecurities, but there MUST be a way to change that, especially in someone who’s intelligent and mentally very able to comprehend the consequences of their behavior.

    I know your definition of childish parents is more about their motivations than their actual behavior. Well, this is a person who literally acts infantile: calling names, crying, screaming, ignoring their children’s emotional needs, trying to control everything…

    Kids usually grow out of such behavior with the help of their mature and just parents, but what about adults? Do you think it’s better to ignore them or try to reason with them, calmly and rationally? I’m tired of acting like a parent, that’s just not right…

    • Hi Vanessa,
      That doesn’t sound like a great situation to be in at all. From what you have told me it sounds as if this person is unlikely to change any time soon – people do not change until they accept they have an issue that needs changing. Tantrum behaviours are reinforced most by erratic rewards – so if this person gets their own way, even sometimes, from their emotional manipulations, they will continue forever. From the limited information I have here I can suggest two approaches – neither of which are particularly easy, but either will help you to nuture yourself – which is key to becoming an emotionally healthy adult. You could simply cut all contact all together. I know this sounds harsh, but I know people who have had to do this for their own sanity. The other approach is harder to maintain as you keep contact and refuse to enter any of their dramas – so you have regular adult converstations, don’t go out of your way too much to make contact, keep up with birthdays and other family celebrations, but as soon as there is an inkling of tantrum behaviour you stop the conversation or physically leave.Once you stop engaging with their dramas this person will think you are persecuting them and, just like for children, the behaviours will get much, much worse until they realise that they aren’t going to get anywhere with you. You are not responsible for this person’s behaviours, maturity or happiness. If you can, I would also suggest you find some sort of counselling with someone who can work with Somatic Awareness and help you to integrate the conflict of living with this situation. Healing Developmental Trauma by Heller and LaPierre might be useful to you and my tantrum book, which I’ll release next year, could be helpful too. All the very best, I hope you can use something from this reply.

  13. Vanesa says:


    Thank you so much for your answer! I agree that the best way to deal with a situation like this is to keep a big distance. I wouldn’t like to cut all contact because I love my parent despite everything, but I’ve already decided to stay out of their way and live my life without letting that person interfere and manipulate my feelings. You said such people start getting worse once they feel they’ve lost control – I think this is exactly what’s been going on lately.

    I don’t want any counseling, but I agree people should work on being more aware of their physical and emotional self. It sure helps to become more self-confident and in control of the situation.

    Thanks again!

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