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Eggshell Parenting: What to Do When Your Child Is Walking on Eggshells

Parenting is like walking on a tightrope. It’s a delicate balancing act between providing guidance and fostering independence, setting boundaries while allowing freedom and offering love and discipline in equal measure.  

But what happens when this balance is thrown off? Sometimes, without realizing it, our actions can create an environment where our children feel like they must tread carefully – as if walking on eggshells.  

If you suspect your child might be tiptoeing through life, afraid to make mistakes or disappoint you, you may be an eggshell parent. 

Jerimya Fox, a licensed professional counselor and doctor of behavioral health with Banner Health, helps parents understand more about this parenting style and the steps to piece their relationship back together again.

What is eggshell parenting?

Eggshell parenting is a term popularized by a psychologist on TikTok that is used to describe a parenting style where the atmosphere at home is so fragile that children feel like they have to walk on eggshells to avoid upsetting their parents.  

“Being an eggshell parent means being chronically unpredictable and prone to mood swings,” Dr. Fox said. “One moment the parent is caring and compassionate, the next they are blowing up at their children. It’s a very unbalanced parenting style.”

How does eggshell parenting affect children?

Children who grow up with this parenting style can become hypervigilant and hyperaware of their feelings and energy. 

“Living in an environment where every step feels like it could lead to a reaction creates significant stress and anxiety for a child,” said Dr. Fox. “They may feel a heightened sense of alertness, always waiting for another outburst to happen.” 

Other ways eggshell parenting can affect a child’s well-being include:

  • No boundaries: Some children may be too connected to their parents because the parents have difficulty separating their emotions and relationships from those of their child. 
  • Low self-esteem: The unpredictable nature of eggshell parenting can lead to a shaky sense of self-worth. They may also be at greater risk for depression and substance use disorders.
  • Physical signs: The emotional strain may cause physical problems, like headaches, stomachaches and sleep issues.
  • Struggle to handle feelings: They may have problems grappling with their emotions and are unsure how to respond to certain situations.

Signs you may be making your child walk on eggshells

Getting upset from time to time is a normal part of being human – and it doesn’t necessarily mean you are an eggshell parent. Like anyone else, parents can experience frustration, stress or moments of anger. 

“What distinguishes eggshell parenting is the consistent environment of fear and unpredictability in the parent-child relationship,” Dr. Fox said.  

Here are some signs that you might be an eggshell parent:

  • Hyperreactive: You react strongly to minor issues or situations.
  • Inconsistency: Constantly changing rules and expectations, leaving your child unsure of what to expect and how to behave.
  • Unrealistic expectations: Setting really high standards for your child’s behavior or performance.
  • Lack of communication: Your child hesitates to share their thoughts and experiences because they fear your reaction.
  • Heavy on the criticism: Constantly pointing out flaws without acknowledging strengths.

What you can do about it

If you believe you’re an eggshell parent, you are on the right path to breaking this cycle. Dr. Fox shared tips on how to do it:

  1. Self-reflection: Take a moment to think about your emotions and reactions. Figure out when you get upset and why. Understanding this is the first step to making things better. 
  2. Say you’re sorry: Apologize to your child. Learning to own your mistakes can go a long way to strengthen your relationship with your child.
  3. Seek help: A licensed behavioral health specialist, like a psychologist, counselor or therapist, can help you and your child overcome challenges and create positive and lasting changes in your family.
  4. Find ways to deal with stress: Find healthy ways to manage stress and emotions. This could include deep breathing, mindfulness or engaging in activities that bring you joy.
  5. Set clear rules: Create consistent and clear rules for your child. Knowing what to expect will help your child feel safe and less worried about upsetting you.
  6. Talk with your child: Regular and open communication can help break the cycle of eggshell parenting. Create an environment where your child feels comfortable to express their thoughts and feelings without judgment. 
  7. Offer honest praise: Recognize and appreciate your child’s efforts and strengths. Don’t only focus on the bad stuff. 
  8. Practice patience: Change takes time. Be patient with yourself and your child as you go through this process together. Celebrate small victories and progress.

Bottom line

Parenting is like walking on a tightrope. It requires a delicate balance. We have to be careful about how our emotions and actions affect our children. Eggshell parenting, even if we don’t mean to do it, can make children feel uneasy. 

Breaking the eggshell parenting cycle takes time, but recognizing the signs and taking steps to break the cycle can make your home a better and happier place for you and your child.

If you struggle to manage your emotions and reactions, speak to your health care provider or a Banner Health specialist who can help get you on the right path. 

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