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How to Protect Your Child from a Toxic Parent

Do you need to know how you can protect your child from a toxic parent? Supporting your little one in a situation where their other parent is toxic is a slippery slope. Children tend to associate their identity with their mother and father, even if one is toxic. So, you want your child and spouse to have a relationship, yet you don’t want to give your kid false hope that it can be successful. You also know that sugarcoating won’t help the situation, but you realize that you can’t give your child every gory detail.

Luckily, there’s a perfect balance that will help your baby understand their other parent while at the same time strengthening the shield around them and teaching them skills to last them for life – because let’s be real, toxic people are bound to come and go even throughout the healthiest of lives and latch onto the kindest of people.

Identifying a “toxic parent”

There’s one thing we should be clear on right off the bat. “Toxic parenting” is not an official medical term or a well-defined concept. It’s more of an umbrella term for a parent who creates a harmful and toxic environment in their family home. A parent who puts their needs before their child. One who uses guilt, fear, and humiliation as means to get what they want and ensure compliance.


They’ll often display a litany of toxic characteristics, including self-centeredness, emotional unavailability, and controlling and manipulative behaviors. They tend to push and push to get their way, showing no concern for the child’s needs and boundaries. The abuse may not even be physical, like yelling, threats, or hitting. In fact, it can be a lot more subtle, like blame-shifting, silent treatment, gaslighting, name-calling, making unhealthy comparisons, and hurtful statements. Finally, they often possess no empathy and can be incapable of feeling or expressing regret.


The thing about parents is that they’re human beings. They make mistakes. But outbursts and bad days don’t necessarily make one a bad parent. But if you notice that your spouse’s behavior does not occur in isolated events but patterns and tends to be ongoing and progressive, this can cause permanent damage to the psychological, emotional, and social growth of your child.

sad boy sitting on the floor

Growing up in a toxic environment, a child cannot thrive psychologically, emotionally, or socially.

Your child may blame themselves for their toxic parent’s behaviors or how they react to them. They may start feeling guilty or inadequate, stressed out, and confused. Carrying such heavy baggage around with them can make it very difficult to form healthy self-esteem and thrive as an adult. It may even result in various physical illnesses, mental health disorders, substance abuse, and suicide attempts.

What can you do to protect your child from a toxic parent?

Be honest

No, not brutally honest. You simply need to be frank about the reality of your child’s relationship with their other parent. Don’t sugarcoat, pretend everything’s normal, and sweep it under the rug. When they’re upset over something the parent did or said, listening to their concerns and validating their emotions is crucial. Then, you want to answer any questions they might have honestly and age-appropriately. Finally, explain that their other parent is different and does not quite realize how he or she hurts other people.

Talk about boundaries

A big part of supporting your child when the other parent is toxic is teaching them about self-care and setting strong boundaries between themselves and the ones who cause breakage.

Kids tend to view their parents as an authority and assume adults know what they’re doing. However, since toxic behavior is often automatic, their learning about boundaries and what’s acceptable and what’s not is essential. They shouldn’t grow up thinking that hitting people, lying, name-calling, or being abusive in any way is normal. They should know that they’re allowed to say “no” when somebody’s asking them to do something that feels bad, wrong, or embarrassing. And they should know that you’ll back them up.

This is especially true if the toxic co-parent misuses alcohol or drugs. In this case, one of the best coping tips for family members of addicts is to learn about addiction and how it makes the person engage in toxic behaviors. Once you understand what drives them and how the difference between helping and enabling will become much clearer, then you can learn some coping skills like how precisely to set clear and healthy boundaries and learn to take care of yourself. Better yet, you can help your child do the same.

Teach them about love

When it comes to feeling and expressing love, a toxic spouse usually behaves differently than the other parent. They tend to treat it as a commodity, something that the people around them must earn. And that’s precisely what they will teach their children. They don’t really know how to show that they love and care for other people, at least not in a way that isn’t self-serving. For this reason, it is essential to teach your offspring what love really is – and that’s respect, care, and compassion. So, model empathy and understanding in your home and create a safe space and an environment of open communication without judgment.

Father holding his daughter
Make sure your child feels loved and cared for

Stay calm

When struggling with a toxic relationship, gentle acceptance is strangely the best choice – it opens the door to your own compassion and wisdom. But, dear parents, we get it. The demands of the modern world are overwhelming enough, even without life throwing you lemons like this. And, sometimes, it can feel like you’re carrying the heaviest burdens of them all. It’s hard to stay calm. In fact, it’s completely natural to feel angry and upset with toxic people around. However, nursing your anger, anxiety, and despair or denying their existence and pretending that they aren’t bothering you won’t protect you or your child. Your baby needs to know you’ve got this, so don’t get angry and upset in front of them. They should never feel as though they need to look after you. You are the one who needs to protect your child from a toxic parent, not vice versa.

Be consistent

Toxic people can be very inconsistent when it comes to parenting. This does not set a good model for the child to follow, so it is up to you to provide them with the consistency they need while growing up. Kids, being kids, will most likely rebel against the rules and boundaries you set. But it’s the best way to protect your child from the toxicity and inconsistency of their other parent. In the long run, it provides your kid with a much-needed sense of stability and healthy discipline and instills in them good values. So, try your best to stick with the rules and boundaries you set, and your child will adjust.

An image of parents arguing
In a home without stability and consistency, the child will suffer

The bottom line

Toxic relationships like mistreating partners and abusive spouses are much less difficult to manage with no children in the picture. You can simply cut all ties with them and forget about their existence. But with children around and a toxic co-parent who wants to stay in their life, things become a lot more complicated. Luckily, now you know some ways you can protect your child from a toxic parent without engaging in toxic parenting yourself.

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