Overly critical mothers can harm a child's self-esteem.

How Can an Overly Critical Mother Affect Her Children?

by Sara Ipatenco

An overly critical mother probably has her child's best interests at heart, but constant criticism can cause some serious damage to a child's mental health as well as his relationship with his mother. Critical mothers take the "it's my way or the highway" approach to raising their children, and that can backfire in a big way. In fact, it can have lasting damage. No need to go into instant panic mode if you've caught yourself being overly critical, but it is time to change your ways.

1. Never Satisfied

An overly critical mother is one who is never satisfied with how her child behaves or how he looks. A critical mother doesn't keep these feelings to herself either. Instead, she lets her child know exactly what she doesn't like and what he's doing wrong, according to Beverly Engel, author of "The Emotionally Abusive Relationship." Most of the attention an overly critical mother gives her child is negative and it can turn into verbal abuse if it goes too far, Engel reports. Strike a balance between being in charge and letting your child have freedom. Even if you don't like the mismatched socks or the messy playroom, swallow your criticism and give your child space to learn from his mistakes and become the person he's meant to be.

2. Mental Health

When a child, even one as young as toddler or preschool age, feels like he can't do anything right, he'll start to believe there is something wrong with him, according to Engel. If a child constantly hears his mother harping on him that his toys aren't put away correctly, that his socks don't match his outfit or that his coloring needs improvement because he's not staying the lines, he'll start to believe he's worthless and his self-esteem and self-worth will suffer a major blow. According to Dennis Coon, author of "Psychology: A Journey," many children with critical parents struggle to be perfect, obedient and self-controlled, but inside they never feel like they measure up. Instead, compliment your child regularly. Tell him that you're proud of him for going down the slide by himself or putting his own clothes on. Let go of everything being perfect and revel in the realization that your child is perfect just the way he is.

3. Sense of Security

When a small child doesn't have a warm and nurturing mother, he misses out on a sense of security. Secure children usually have mothers who set boundaries but allow their child to discover, learn and be independent. Children with critical mothers don't feel as secure because they are entirely dependent on the parent, Engel notes. In other words, when a child has a critical mother and never feels like he measures up, he fears that he'll lose his mother's love since he can't do anything that pleases her. That loss of security can last into adulthood, as well. Give your child some power over his own life by lovingly showing him how to do things, such as put his toys away, by himself. When he can look to you for guidance rather than criticism, he'll be more secure and happy.

4. Long-Term Effects

According to Engel, children with overly critical parents are more likely to use illicit drugs as they get older. These children are also more likely to grow up and become self-involved people because they spent their entire childhood hearing what was wrong with them. Because of that, they also spend a great deal of time focusing on what they can do to change themselves into the image they believe is ideal. The New York University Langone Medical Center reports that children with critical parents often turn to food for comfort, which can result in unhealthy weight gain and obesity as a child gets older.

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