Small Ways You May Be Undermining Each Other as Parents

Small Ways You May Be Undermining Each Other as Parents

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Being a parent is a tough job under the best of circumstances. Unfortunately, there is no manual or black and white solution for many situations. Of course, there are plenty of people who love to tell other people what to do and how to do it according to their own logic. There is, however, one huge parenting no-no that couples regularly and often unknowingly commit, and that’s when one parent undermines the other in front of the kids.

As big of a blessing and joy as children can be, they often have a way of testing the patience and resolve of their parents and their parent’s relationships. As individuals we don’t always agree with one another and when there are disagreements about children and parenting decisions we can sometimes make big mistakes. Sadly, those mistakes can have a detrimental affect on children and on children’s relationships with their parents.

What Undermining Looks Like

Most parents when asked will tell you they never undermine the other parent. They will also probably tell you, however, that they themselves have been undermined by their partner at some point. So, it really does beg the question — what does undermining look like?

Undermining one another can happen in a variety of ways. Some are intentional and some aren’t, but that really doesn’t matter when it comes to the overall effect. If you are wondering if you have been guilty of it ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you ever disagree about repercussions for bad behavior in front of your child?
  • Have you ever encouraged your child not to tell the other parent about something?
  • Use the other parent as the ultimate threat (i.e., “Just wait until your mom/dad finds out?” or “Your Mom/Dad is going to be so mad when they get home.”)
  • Conversely, do you offer to conspire with phrases like, “You can do or have xyz, just don’t tell your mom/dad” or “Remember, this is our little secret”?
  • Do you complain about the other parent in front of your kids?
  • Do you change or reduce a punishment that was doled out by the other parent?
  • Routinely sleep in the room with your child, instead of with your partner?
  • Say things like, “You know what he can be like?” or “She’s really in a mood today”?
  • Make excuses or cover for your child to the other parent when they’ve misbehaved?
  • Say things like, “It’s no big deal” or “Calm down, they’re just kids” when your child has done something wrong?

These are all examples of common and somewhat inconspicuous ways that parents can undermine each other. Many of these are innocent in that one parent really isn’t trying to damage or hurt the other, or their relationship with the child. Unfortunately, this behavior can become deliberate and extreme when the relationship between parents is tense, or if there’s a separation or divorce in the works. In these cases, there may need to be counseling or parenting classes needed on how to effectively co-parent.

Effects Undermining the Other Parent Has on Your Children

You may be reading this and thinking, “I do one or two of those, how bad can they really be?” Well, the answer to that can vary, but generally these behaviors act like water flowing over a rock. The more often you do them, the more of the relationship erodes. And the impact is multiplied when your relationship with the other parent is already strained.

Remember, children learn more from what they see than what they’re told. Undermining the other parent sends the message that a positive and honest relationship really isn’t that important. It can also teach them manipulation is an acceptable way to get what they want. Most kids will try at some point to play parents off one another. If you have regularly undermined each other over the years they will not only see pitting you against each other as acceptable, they will also know quite well how to do it themselves because you will have taught them.

As a consequence of this you may find that your child doesn’t take either one of you seriously when you set boundaries, make rules, or issue consequences.

How to Stop

Learning not to undermine each other requires conscious effort. So many of the little ways it can happen can sneak in over time despite your best intentions. In the heat of the moment it’s very easy to get emotional and forget that a united front is the most effective means of parenting.

Having regular discussions regarding parenting issues when things are calm can be a good way to keep things on the right track. And communicating with each other regarding any behaviors or comments that feel like you are being undermined. These conversations, however, should be done away from the children.

If you find that you have done things that may undermined your partner parent, then you can still work together to fix things. It may require a conversation with your child to explain that despite what they may have seen or heard, you have come to agreement on whatever the issue is and present a united front. This will serve the dual purpose of not only reinforcing your message, but also showing them that two people who love and respect each other can come to agreement even if they didn’t see eye-to-eye at one point. Effective conflict resolution is a difficult skill to learn and should be modeled to our children whenever possible.

Most parents have accidentally undermined the other at one point or another. Children can bring out the best and worst in us, and also inspire a lot of strong emotions. Working to be a better parent and a better parenting team is a never-ending process. So, if you’ve stumbled and made mistakes, the good news is that you get to try again.

12 Ways to Mess Up Your Kids

Child psychologists, psychiatrists, and other experts tell us the dozen things you should avoid doing to help your child develop into a happy, confident, well-rounded little person.

Parenting is one of the most popular areas of self-help. For many, parenting books are purchased while the child is still in utero. The past few decades have brought a lot of new discoveries about child development, child behavior, and the nature of the parent-child relationship, some of which have been extremely important. But the volume of information can be overwhelming. So we decided to focus on what parents shouldn’t do.

We asked some of the best-known experts in the field what they see as some of the prime ways parents can mess up their kids. From child psychologists to child psychiatrists to child doctors, the experts gave us the lowdown on what harms and helps kids. According to them, here are the top 12 things that you should avoid doing to help your child develop into a happy, confident, and well-rounded little person.


We’ve all been there: It’s time to leave the park and your kids just won’t go. They run they hide they refuse. And you become more and more frustrated and angry. It’s tempting to take this tack when your kids just won’t get on board with what you’re trying to do (especially if they’re throwing a full-fledged tantrum), but the threat of abandonment—it doesn’t matter whether you would never act on it—is deeply damaging to children.

A child’s feeling of attachment to his parents and caregivers is one of the most important things in a child’s development, especially in the early years. Dr. L. Alan Sroufe, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development, says that threatening your child with abandonment, even in seemingly lighthearted ways, can shake the foundation of security and well-being that you represent. According to Sroufe, when you say things like, “I’m just going to leave you here,” it opens up the possibility that you will not be there to protect and care for them. For a child, the thought that you could leave them alone in a strange place is both terribly frightening and can begin to erode their attachment to you as the secure base from which they can encounter the world.

So next time you’re tempted to respond to refusals or tantrums with “I’m leaving,” try explaining the situation to your child in simple terms—or, at least, waiting out the tears with him (they will pass), and then proceeding on. If it’s about time to leave the park (and your child is old enough), prepare him for the transition, because transitions are notoriously difficult for kids. Try saying something like, “Oliver, it’s getting to be dinnertime, so we’re going to start packing up in five minutes.” Then alert him at the four-, three-, two-, and one-minute marks, so he’s aware of what’s coming. The same type of negotiating can work if your child is screaming in the grocery cart because he’s sick of doing errands: Counting down the number of items you still need before “Mommy time” is over and it’s park or play time can be a good way to help your child feel involved and aware of the plan. For younger children, distraction (“Look at that big dog/red truck out there!”) is likely your best defense.

A simple but extremely important rule of thumb in child rearing is “Don’t lie to your child.” For example, telling your kids that the family pet has gone to a farm upstate when the animal is actually dead is a good example of this common mistake that parents make. When we bend the truth in these ways, it’s not, of course, malicious: We are trying to save our kids’ feelings. We may be unsure of how to handle these difficult situations, or just hoping to avoid the issue, but making things up or lying to protect your child from pain actually backfires because it distorts reality, which is unnecessary and potentially damaging.

It is important, though, to be sure your explanation is age-appropriate. A very young child does not need a long explanation of death or dying. Telling him or her a person was very old or very sick with a serious illness the doctors couldn’t make go away may be all that’s needed.

According to Sroufe, this parenting mistake also includes “distorting feelings,” which may involve “telling children they feel something that they in fact are not feeling or, more frequently, telling them they are not feeling what they in fact are feeling.” In other words, creating a discrepancy between what your child is experiencing and what you’re telling them they feel creates unnecessary distress.

For example, if your child says she is scared to go to school for the first time, rather than telling her she’s not scared or that she’s being silly, acknowledge your child’s feelings and then work from there. Say something along the lines of, “I know you’re scared, but I’m going to come with you. We’ll meet your new teachers and your classmates together, and I’ll stay with you until you’re not scared anymore. Sometimes excitement feels a lot like being scared. Do you think you are also excited?” The next time you’re tempted to tell a little lie or otherwise bend the truth, consider another way: It is an opportunity to grow. Embrace the truth and help your child work through the confusing feelings. It will be much better for her health over the long term.


Parents may live by the old mantra “Do as I say, not as I do,” but there’s a lot of good research to show why this does not work for a number of reasons. Kids learn by example, plain and simple. Children absorb everything around them, and they are exceptionally sponge-like in their capacity to learn and mirror both good and bad behaviors from the time they are very young.

For this reason, as the child-development expert and author Dr. David Elkind, a professor emeritus at Tufts University, tells The Doctor, modeling the behavior we want is one of the best things we as parents can do. What you do matters a lot more than what you say your child should do.

For example, the children of smokers are twice as likely to smoke as the kids of nonsmoking parents, and overweight parents are significantly more likely to have overweight children than non-overweight parents. Even slightly more enigmatic behaviors, like how you treat family members and interact with strangers, animals, and the environment, are absorbed and repeated by your children. The best way to get your kids to eat their broccoli? Eat it enthusiastically yourself, and make it delicious (with a little grated cheese perhaps) for your kids. Children detect falseness a mile away, so believing in what you’re doing is an integral part of leading by example.

If you want your child to be respectful and kind, be sure you exhibit those behaviors yourself, even when you are angry or in a disagreement. You, the parent, are the No. 1 role model in your child’s life. Showing—rather than telling—them how to behave and navigate the world around them is the most effective method.


One of the biggest problems with parenting advice is that one size does not fit all. As Elkind points out, “the same boiling water that hardens the egg softens the carrot … The same parental behavior can have different effects depending on the personality of the child.”

If you have more than one child, you have probably noticed that not only do their personalities vary greatly, but other variables like sleep habits, attention spans, learning styles, and responses to discipline can also be extraordinarily different between children. Your first child may look to you constantly for comfort or encouragement, while your second may need nothing of the sort, preferring to forge ahead on his own. Some children respond better to firm boundaries while others need less definition. Therefore, it is important to remember that what worked for one does not necessarily work for the other.

The same is true when it comes to what you needed as a child versus what your own child needs. You might have been a child who was constantly on the go and required a lot of active play, but your child might prefer quiet, mellow play. Keeping these differences in mind as you raise your own kids is key—it’s not easy, because it requires you to keep learning and reevaluating, rather than rely on your own experiences and memories. But parenting with the needs of each child at the forefront will go a long way for your children’s and your development.


Most parents have a general idea of the things that are okay and aren’t okay in their households, but what you do when rules are broken can really make a difference between teaching your child a lesson and simply making them angry and resentful. When something unexpected pops up, some people take it in stride while others don’t take it so well. But according to Dr. W. George Scarlett, the deputy chair of the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts University, one way to “mess up” your kid is to lose track of the larger context and all the other variables that are part of the environment in which you raise your child and in which your child exists.

For example, if your child sneaks in a violent video game or R-rated movie, it isn’t the end of the world, assuming you’re basically providing a positive, supportive surrounding to raise your child. Scarlett says that “parents letting kids play video games with violent content and parents spanking provide examples of what I mean. If you just look at the correlations, you might conclude these two are bad ideas, but look closer, and it seems these two are fine for most when embedded in good contexts and caring parenting.” Therefore, a “bad” activity every now and again won’t be too detrimental to your child’s development if the other 99 percent of his activities are more in line with your own beliefs.

Scarlett adds that “the overall message might well be this: that particular methods, habits, and behaviors aren’t as important as parental attitudes and abilities to take [a] child’s point of view as well as that of an adult.” If a child is raised in a loving, nurturing environment in which he is respected and his feelings are taken into account (more on this later), then activities to which we might otherwise say “no way” won’t have so large or negative an impact on your child’s development.


Despite old-school wisdom, it is virtually impossible to spoil your baby by being attentive to their needs or holding them in your arms for much of the day. Dr. Tovah Klein, the director of the Barnard Toddler Center at Columbia University, underlines that “you can’t spoil a baby by holding them or responding to them too much. Research shows just the opposite. Babies who receive more sensitive and responsive care (so their needs are responded to) become the more competent and independent toddlers.”

Holding your baby in your arms or in a sling, responding to cries, and comforting them when they’re frustrated can only help. After all, babies cry for a reason: It’s a signal that something is amiss and they need Mom’s or Dad’s help to fix it. Knowing that Mom or Dad is there to make right the things that go wrong creates a sense of security that stays with them as they grow.

For older kids, there’s a balance between being responsive and being over-responsive to their mishaps. For example, when children fall down, they often look to the parents to see how they should respond. When parents overreact to a skinned knee, the child will too. But when parents respond in a laid-back way (perhaps saying, “Oops, you fell. Looks like you’re okay, right?”), the child will likely respond in kind, and perhaps skip the tears altogether. But for young babies, it’s almost impossible to over-parent. So if you’re inclined to keep your baby on your chest rather than in a carrier, go ahead. It will build a bond and sense of security between you and your baby for a long time to come.

A related point is that each child develops at his or her own speed, so pushing your child to do new things before he or she is ready can actually be harmful. “Pushing for independence too early can backfire,” according to Klein. “For example, parents can be quick to move a child out of a crib—like when they turn 2. This takes away a known comfort from them (cribs are small and enclosed and help children feel safe). This can lead to sleep battles—child not wanting to stay in bed, waking more at night, etc.” So make sure that your child is ready for new activities and transitions. His or her response will let you know whether they are. Be prepared to back off and wait a bit longer before trying again.


Expressing his or her anger by hitting or throwing things is a perfectly natural behavior for a child. It’s a way for kids, with their limited language and immature cognitive (mental) abilities, to express emotion. Punishing the child for these behaviors, though it may be tempting, is not the way to go, because it gives the impression that having the emotions in the first place is a bad thing.

Klein suggests that rather than scolding a child for acting out, “helping a child understand their negative emotion (anger, sadness) and, in time, learn to understand why they feel as they do will help them develop competence socially and emotionally. So empathizing with a child, rather than scolding them, while setting a limit (i.e., ‘I understand you are angry, but I can’t let you hit’) bears better outcomes later than scolding and punishing the young child.”

Rather than “shutting down” a child’s emotions, help your child see that you understand his frustration and it’s okay to feel that way—but that there’s a better way to express it.


This is a common mistake that parents make, particularly as their kids get older. All parents want to be liked and loved by their kids, and to be thought of as cool is especially desirable to some parents—so it can be easy to slip into the friend role, rather than the parent role.

Dr. Sue Hubbard, a pediatrician and the host of The Kid’s Doctor radio show, says that it’s crucial to remain a parent, especially when it comes to setting boundaries about experimenting with substances. The rate of alcohol and drug use in teens is climbing, and Hubbard feels that “part of that may be due to the fact that parents want to be their child’s friend rather than parent. It is often easier to say yes than no, and parents seem to turn a blind eye at times to the use of alcohol and drugs (especially weed) in their own homes. The scary part of this: Alcohol is the leading cause of death among teenagers.”

While some parents may feel that the safest place to experiment with substances is in the home, being too permissive about alcohol or drug use can backfire, giving kids the idea that underage drinking is okay as long as it’s at home. “You must set an example for responsible alcohol use,” Hubbard says, “and enforce the laws regarding underage drinking. Children watch their parents from very young ages, and they know what coming home drunk looks like.”

Overly permissive parenting can be a concern in other areas, not just the drug-and-alcohol realm. Finding your way between being an authority figure and being confident can be tricky, but it’s an important balance to strike. Being authoritative—using your years and accumulated knowledge to explain to your children—is different from being authoritarian, or someone who says “my way or the highway.” It’s not hard to guess which has the more lasting beneficial effect on a teenager or young child.


With our incredibly busy lives today, family mealtimes can become a casualty. When the kids are young, it’s natural to have an early meal for them, and one later for grown-ups. And with teens who tend to snack a lot and have after-school activities, it’s easy for the evening meal to become an “every-man-for-himself” event.

More and more research shows that families who eat together are healthier, both physically and mentally. As Hubbard says, “Family mealtime has somehow become an enigma rather than the norm. How this has evolved is not clear, but numerous studies have shown that children who eat family meals have more academic success in school, have less attention and behavior problems, have less drug and alcohol use, and definitely have better table manners.”

Families who eat together are also thinner and have reduced risk for eating disorders. So as much as possible, try to have sit-down meals together, talking about the good and bad points in your day, and just being together. “Don’t stress over family meals!” Hubbard says. “You can buy pre-made food, add a few of your family's favorite ingredients, and enjoy it around the table.”

Pediatrician Jim Sears, a co-host of the television show The Doctors, calls stocking the cabinets with junk food one of the most common mistakes we make. Depriving kids of nutritious food and making them overweight is a sure way to mess up kids. “It all comes down to shopping habits, and turning these around can make a big difference when it comes to our kids’ health.” According to Sears, “If you look at most pantries, you’ll find cookies, chips, and soda, even though the people that stock those pantries will say they’re trying to avoid junk. If it’s sitting in the fridge … you will see it and you will eat it. Even worse: Your kids will see it and grow up thinking that you are supposed to have junk food in stock all the time.”

“I always encourage my families to change their thinking on how they shop. Having junk food around the house should be the exception, not the rule,” Sears says. If you want to replace the junk food with healthier options, try doing it gradually (your kids might rebel if you do it all at once).


Though it’s tempting to hop in the car to make a quick run to the grocery store, Sears’ second piece of advice to families is to opt for activity whenever you can. “By this,” he says, “I don’t mean going to the gym five days a week. What I mean is that your family chooses being active whenever possible. You ride bikes or walk to school. You walk to the park, post office, coffee shop … You can walk a few blocks from your office to grab lunch, and take the stairs.” You might even think about getting a dog.

“People talk about a genetic component to being overweight, but if a person is active, then they can overcome any genetic predisposition they may have,” Sears says. “I think this shows that humans were designed to be moving most of the time, instead of sitting in a classroom or behind a desk. Sure, sitting may be a part of your job, but if you look for any excuse to move, and to get your family moving, you will all be much healthier and have better job or school performance. Let your kids think that being active is normal.”

Your kids may moan and groan now when you tell them the movie is out but a day hike with a picnic is in, but these habits will stay with them in the years to come. Not only will they make your kids healthier as they age (research keeps coming in that suggests the more active we stay, the more we reduce our risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cognitive decline, and even early death), but presumably they’ll pass this healthy lifestyle on to their own children as well.


We’re all aware of the impact that our parenting has on our children. But sometimes it’s easy to push that idea to the extreme and feel that everything you do will have a make-or-break impact on your child’s success.

If you can’t get him into the best elementary school, what will become of his academic aspirations? If you don’t find the perfect balance between discipline and easygoingness, how will this affect his development? Did he push a kid on the playground today because you let him see a violent cartoon? If your child has a great day in Little League, don’t assume your coaching was the reason.

Becoming a guilt-ridden and intense parent is one sure way to mess up your kids. Dr. Hans Steiner, a professor emeritus of child psychiatry at Stanford University, cautions parents not to assume sole responsibility for their child’s issues. There are many other factors in his life besides you that will affect his personality and development: genes, other family members, school, friends, and so on. So when things go wrong, don’t beat yourself up, because it is very likely not you and you alone that led to the problem.

On the flip side, Steiner says, don’t assume that you have no role in your child’s development. Some people may operate from the assumption that a child’s successes and problems are mainly due to genes, or the teachers at school, rather than you. Both extremes are just that: extremes. Like so many aspects of parenting, there is a balance. You are important in your child’s life, but you’re not the only factor.


You’re reading this to learn some parenting disasters and tips. But as stated earlier, one-size-fits-all parenting is unrealistic, because children’s personalities vary so greatly. Steiner advises parents to be aware of the “goodness-of-fit” between themselves and their children when it comes to personality and natural temperament. Psychologists have outlined nine different temperament traits (some of which include attention span, mood, and activity level), which all combine to form three basic temperament types: easy/flexible, difficult/feisty, and cautious/slow to warm up.

Needless to say, your child’s temperament interacts with yours. Some parents’ and kids’ temperaments work well together, but others are more of a work in progress. Your children’s temperaments may be very different from your own—and you can’t change either one. Just think about the fastidious mom with a sloppy kid, or the hard-driving dad with a laid-back child. It’s up to you to be mindful of these differences and work around them.

Once you’re aware of the phenomenon, you can figure out new ways to interact with and respond to your child to minimize friction. One recent University of Washington study found that when parenting styles were more closely tailored to their children’s needs, kids had significantly less depression and anxiety than kids whose parents were less tuned in to their children’s personalities. You will also be able to construct schedules and activities that will be a better fit with his or her temperament.

Being aware of the natural temperament and needs of your child is one of the necessary (and wonderful) parts of being a parent. There’s a lot you can’t change, so delight in the distinct little personality that he or she is—and will grow into, in the years to come.

Parenting stress may affect mother’s and child’s ability to tune in to each other

Summary: Mothers who reported higher levels of parental stress had less synchrony in brain activity with their young children than moms who were more stress-free. The findings shed new light on how parental stress can impact the mother-child relationship on a day-to-day basis.

Source: Nanyang Technological University

A study led by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) has revealed the effects of the stress of parenting in the brains of both mothers and their children.

The researchers analysed the brain activity of 31 pairs of mother and child from Singapore while they were watching children’s animation clips together.

They found that mothers who reported higher levels of parenting stress had less synchrony in brain activity with their child (all aged around 3 years old) than those who reported lower levels of parenting stress.

The specific brain region monitored for synchrony was the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with the ability to understand others’ point of view.

In general, when the parent and child show highly similar brain activity in the same area(s) of the brain (i.e. greater synchrony), it suggests that both are highly tuned in to each other’s emotional states.

Parenting stress occurs when the demands of parenting exceed the coping resources that a parent perceives they have available. Excessive parenting stress can block maternal sensitivity, lead to reactions that punish the child and negatively affect the parent-child relationship for the long term.

Senior author of the research Assistant Professor Gianluca Esposito, from the School of Social Sciences who leads the Social and Affective Neuroscience Lab (SAN-Lab) at NTU Singapore, said, “Our study shows that parenting stress may very well weaken mother-child communication early in the process of social interaction. Our observations likely stem from the stressed mother’s reduced ability to share her child’s perspective. This inability to appreciate the child’s viewpoint may reduce the quality of parental engagement and undermine the mother-child relationship in the long run.”

The study, done in collaboration with researchers from the United States’ National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and Italy’s University of Trento and University of Padova, was published in Nature Scientific Reports in August 2019.

How the study was done

The researchers used functional Near-infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) caps as a non-invasive way to measure brain activation based on blood concentration levels in the brain. They combined the use of the caps with a recently developed method called tandem hyperscanning that simultaneously records the brain activity of two people.

Before starting the experiment, mothers answered a questionnaire that aims to measure parenting stress. The mother-child pairs then wore the fNIRS caps with the child sitting on the mother’s lap while both watched animation clips from Brave, Peppa Pig and The Incredibles together.

In the study, a mother and her child would watch animation as their brain activity was measured by a non-invasive instrument called functional Near-infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) caps. The image is credited to Nanyang Technological University.

The NTU research team compared the mother’s and child’s brain activity to calculate brain-to-brain synchrony and found that for those parents reporting higher levels of parenting stress, the degree of mother-child synchrony in part of the prefrontal cortex was diminished, compared to those parents reporting lower stress who had better synchrony.

Classroom Application

Classroom Application

  • To strengthen the development between the ecological systems in educational practice according to the theory, teachers and parents should keep good communication with each other and work together to benefit the child.
  • Teachers should also be understanding of the situations their student’s families may be experiencing, including social and economic factors that are part of the various systems.
  • According to the theory, if parents and teachers have a good relationship, this should shape the child’s development in a positive way.
  • Likewise, the child must also be active in their learning, engaged both academically and socially. They must work as a team with their peers and get involved in meaningful learning experiences to enable positive development (Evans, 2012).

Empirical Evidence

There are lots of studies that have investigated the effects of the school environment on students.

Lippard, LA Paro, Rouse and Crosby (2017) conducted a study to test Bronfenbrenner’s theory. They investigated the teacher-child relationships through teacher reports and classroom observations.

They found that these relationships significantly related to children’s academic achievement and classroom behavior, suggesting that these relationships are important for children’s development and supports the Ecological Systems Theory.

Wilson et al., (2002) found that creating a positive school environment, through a school ethos valuing diversity has a positive effect on student’s relationships within school. Incorporating this kind of school ethos influences those within the developing child’s ecological systems.

Langford et al., (2014) found that whole-school approaches to the health curriculum can positively improve educational achievement and student well-being, thus the development of the students are being affected by the microsystems.

About the Author

Olivia Guy-Evans obtained her undergraduate degree in Educational Psychology at Edge Hill University in 2015. She then received her master’s degree in Psychology of Education from the University of Bristol in 2019. Olivia has been working as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities in Bristol for the last four years.

How to reference this article:

How to reference this article:

Guy-Evans, O. (2020, Nov 09). Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory. Simply Psychology.

APA Style References

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1995). Developmental ecology through space and time: A future perspective.

Hayes, N., O'Toole, L., & Halpenny, A. M. (2017). Introducing Bronfenbrenner: A guide for practitioners and students in early years education. Taylor & Francis.

Langford, R., Bonell, C. P., Jones, H. E., Pouliou, T., Murphy, S. M., Waters, E., Komro, A. A., Gibbs, L. F., Magnus, D. & Campbell, R. (2014). The WHO Health Promoting School framework for improving the health and well‐being of students and their academic achievement. Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (4).

Lippard, C. N., La Paro, K. M., Rouse, H. L., & Crosby, D. A. (2018, February). A closer look at teacher–child relationships and classroom emotional context in preschool. In Child & Youth Care Forum 47(1), 1-21.

Wilson, P., Atkinson, M., Hornby, G., Thompson, M., Cooper, M., Hooper, C. M., & Southall, A. (2002). Young minds in our schools-a guide for teachers and others working in schools. Year: YoungMinds (Jan 2004).

How to reference this article:

How to reference this article:

Guy-Evans, O. (2020, Nov 09). Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory. Simply Psychology.

This workis licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

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7 Ways You May Be Sabotaging Your Relationship Without Knowing It

What makes some couples go the distance, while other romances fizzle out before they’ve even gotten off the ground?

Below, relationship experts share seven negative qualities that can undermine a relationship in the early stages.

1. You expect way too much from your partner.

There’s nothing wrong with setting high expectations for potential partners. But you’re setting yourself up for failure if you believe a soulmate should be responsible for your sense of fulfillment in life, said Kristin Davin, a psychologist in New York City.

“I see a lot of people in relationships who are overly dependent on their spouse for everything,” she said. “Looking to your partner for all your emotional support creates a burden on the other person.”

It may kill you to spend time apart in the beginning, but doing so is the best way to avoid a co-dependent relationship, Davin said.

2. You feel jealous of each other’s success.

Like Bey and Jay or Ellen and Portia, your S.O. should be your partner in life, not your rival. If you’re secretly peeved that your girlfriend got a raise, it doesn’t bode well for your future, said Laurel Steinberg, a New York City-based relationship therapist and professor of psychology at Columbia University.

“Being able to genuinely celebrate a partner’s success is so important in a healthy relationship, even if your own success pales in comparison,” she said.
“Having a partner who is jealous of your accomplishments is painful, alienating and depletes the love in a relationship.”

3. You keep secrets.

If you want your relationship to have legs, building trust early on is essential. When one person hides things from the other, no matter how small, it creates suspicion and distance in the relationship, said Danielle Adinolfi, a Philadelphia-based marriage and family therapist.

“To build your relationship up you need to build bridges, not burn them,” she said. “Telling one another things that may feel hard to disclose is a way to be vulnerable with your partner and that vulnerability will bring you closer together.”

4. Your sex drives are unequal, and you’re not willing to talk about it.

It’s not uncommon for long-time couples to have desire discrepancies partners’ sex drives ebb and flow through the years. Getting through those sexually frustrating times requires heightened communication. If your sex drives are already at odds and you’re unwilling to talk about it, it should trouble you, said Lynn Zakeri, a couples therapist in Skokie, Illinois.

“You need to be honest upfront,” she said. “When one partner has more desire than the other, it can lead to not only sexual dissatisfaction, but also to guilt, insecurity and rejection for the partner who desires more. Talking about it can only help satisfy both parties.”

5. You dwell on your partner’s flaws instead of their attributes.

The qualities that annoy you now about your partner are only going to get worse with time. Instead of growing increasingly annoyed at their bad habits, try to focus on what you love about your partner, said Christine Wilke, a marriage therapist in Easton, Pennsylvania.

“Practice honing in on the good stuff ― and don’t keep it a secret,” she said.
Tell you partner often what you love and appreciate about them.”

If you don’t amplify the positive, Wilke said, “your negative thoughts will begin to grow and permeate like a big, black cloud until that’s all you see.”

Sleep deprivation may be undermining teen health

Lack of sufficient sleep--a rampant problem among teens--appears to put adolescents at risk for cognitive and emotional difficulties, poor school performance, accidents and psychopathology, research suggests.

On any given school day, teen-agers across the nation stumble out of bed and prepare for the day. For most, the alarm clock buzzes by 6:30 a.m., a scant seven hours after they went to bed. Many students board the school bus before 7 a.m. and are in class by 7:30.

In adults, such meager sleep allowances are known to affect day-to-day functioning in myriad ways. In adolescents, who are biologically driven to sleep longer and later than adults do, the effects of insufficient sleep are likely to be even more dramatic--so much so that some sleep experts contend that the nation's early high-school start times, increasingly common, are tantamount to abuse.

"Almost all teen-agers, as they reach puberty, become walking zombies because they are getting far too little sleep," comments Cornell University psychologist James B. Maas, PhD, one of the nation's leading sleep experts.

There can be little question that sleep deprivation has negative effects on adolescents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for example, drowsiness and fatigue cause more than 100,000 traffic accidents each year--and young drivers are at the wheel in more than half of these crashes.

Insufficient sleep has also been shown to cause difficulties in school, including disciplinary problems, sleepiness in class and poor concentration.

"What good does it do to try to educate teen-agers so early in the morning?" asks Maas. "You can be giving the most stimulating, interesting lectures to sleep-deprived kids early in the morning or right after lunch, when they're at their sleepiest, and the overwhelming drive to sleep replaces any chance of alertness, cognition, memory or understanding."

Recent research has also revealed an association between sleep deprivation and poorer grades. In a 1998 survey of more than 3,000 high-school students, for example, psychologists Amy R. Wolfson, PhD, of the College of the Holy Cross, and Mary A. Carskadon, PhD, of Brown University Medical School, found that students who reported that they were getting C's, D's and F's in school obtained about 25 minutes less sleep and went to bed about 40 minutes later than students who reported they were getting A's and B's.

In August, researchers at the University of Minnesota reported the results of a study of more than 7,000 high-school students whose school district had switched in 1997 from a 7:15 a.m. start time to an 8:40 a.m. start time. Compared with students whose schools maintained earlier start times, students with later starts reported getting more sleep on school nights, being less sleepy during the day, getting slightly higher grades and experiencing fewer depressive feelings and behaviors.

Also troubling are findings that adolescent sleep difficulties are often associated with psychopathologies such as depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

This research, combined with studies showing widespread sleep deprivation among teens, has propelled efforts to educate children and adults about the importance of a good night's sleep and to persuade schools to push back high-school starting times.

"There is substantial evidence that the lack of sleep can cause accidents, imperil students' grades and lead to or exacerbate emotional problems," says U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who has introduced a bill that would provide federal grants to help school districts defray the cost of pushing back school starting times. Adjusting school schedules, Lofgren says, "could do more to improve education and reduce teen accidents and crime than many more expensive initiatives."

The research has also spurred further investigations into why teens need extra sleep, the effects of sleep deprivation on cognition, emotion regulation and psychopathology, and the long-term consequences of chronic sleep deprivation.

Dogma reversed

For decades, experts believed that people require less sleep as they move from infancy through adulthood.

It's easy to see why this belief persisted: Adolescents sleep less than they did as children, declining from an average of 10 hours a night during middle childhood to fewer than 7.5 hours by age 16. According to Wolfson and Carskadon's 1998 study, 26 percent of high school students routinely sleep less than 6.5 hours on school nights, and only 15 percent sleep 8.5 hours or more. The same study indicated that to make up for lost sleep, most teens snooze an extra couple of hours on weekend mornings--a habit that can lead to poorer-quality sleep.

But to researchers' surprise, in the past two decades studies have shown that teen-agers require considerably more sleep to perform optimally than do younger children or adults. Starting around the beginning of puberty and continuing into their early 20s, Carskadon and colleagues have shown, adolescents need about 9.2 hours of sleep each night, compared with the 7.5 to 8 hours that adults need.

In addition to needing more sleep, adolescents experience a "phase shift" during puberty, falling asleep later at night than do younger children. Researchers long assumed that this shift was driven by psychosocial factors such as social activities, academic pressures, evening jobs and television and Internet use. In the past several years, however, sleep experts have learned that biology also plays a starring role in adolescents' changing sleep patterns, says Carskadon.

Indeed, Carskadon's research is greatly responsible for that new understanding. In a pair of groundbreaking studies published in 1993 and 1997, she and colleagues found that more physically mature girls preferred activities later in the day than did less mature girls, and that in more physically mature teens, melatonin production tapered off later than it did in less mature teens. Those findings, Carskadon says, suggest that the brain's circadian timing system--controlled mainly by melatonin--switches on later at night as pubertal development progresses.

Changes in adolescents' circadian timing system, combined with external pressures such as the need to awaken early in the morning for school, produce a potentially destructive pattern of early-morning sleepiness in teen-agers, Carskadon argues. In a laboratory study of 40 high-school students published in the journal Sleep (Vol. 21, No. 8) in 1998, she, Wolfson and colleagues examined the effect of changing school starting times from 8:25 a.m. to 7:20 a.m.

Their results were disturbing: Almost half of the students who began school at 7:20 were "pathologically sleepy" at 8:30, falling directly into REM sleep in an average of only 3.4 minutes--a pattern similar to what is seen in patients with narcolepsy.

Those findings, says Carskadon, persuaded her that "these early school start times are just abusive. These kids may be up and at school at 8:30, but I'm convinced their brains are back on the pillow at home."

Elusive questions

The evidence of adolescents' increased need for sleep and that many--if not most--teen-agers are chronically sleep deprived has raised further questions. Particularly elusive, says Carskadon, has been the question of why adolescents' circadian clocks shift to a later phase around the beginning of puberty.

One possibility, she believes, is that the brain's sensitivity to light changes during adolescence. At the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in June, she and colleagues presented research showing that in the evening, exposure to even very dim lighting delayed melatonin secretion for participants who were in middle or late puberty, but not for prepubertal participants.

Carskadon is also interested in how teen-age alcohol use might affect the brain's sleep system. Following up on studies in adults that have established a link between drinking problems and changes in sleep patterns, for example, she and her colleagues plan to examine whether during early development, young people with a family history of problem drinking might have abnormalities in the brain mechanisms that govern sleep.

Just as important as the question of why sleep patterns change during adolescence is the issue of how sleep deprivation influences adolescents' emotion regulation and behavior. Many researchers have noted that sleep-deprived teen-agers appear to be especially vulnerable to psychopathologies such as depression and ADHD, and to have difficulty controlling their emotions and impulses.

Although it's difficult to untangle cause and effect, it's likely that sleep deprivation and problems controlling impulses and emotions exacerbate one another, leading to a "negative spiral" of fatigue and sleepiness, labile emotions, poor decision-making and risky behavior, says Ronald E. Dahl, MD, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh.

Despite the evidence that insufficient sleep affects young people's thinking, emotional balance and behavior, the long-term effects of chronic sleep deprivation on learning, emotion, social relationships and health remain uncertain.

"There's a real need for longitudinal studies to follow through later childhood and adulthood," says psychologist Avi Sadeh, PhD, a sleep researcher at Tel Aviv University. Although research has amply demonstrated that sleep problems affect young people's cognitive skills, behavior and temperament in the short term, he says, "It's not at all clear to what extent these effects are long-lasting."

Researchers push for school changes, public outreach

With such a wealth of evidence about the prevalence of adolescent sleep deprivation and the risks it poses, many sleep researchers have become involved in efforts to persuade school districts to push back high-school starting times so that teens can get their needed rest.

Some schools argue that adjusting school schedules is too expensive and complicated. But others have responded positively to sleep experts' pleas. The Connecticut legislature is considering a bill that would prohibit public schools from starting before 8:30 a.m., and Massachusetts lawmakers are also weighing the issue. And Lofgren's "Zzzzz's to A's" bill, first introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998, would provide federal grants of up to $25,000 to school districts to help cover the administrative costs of adjusting school start times.

These efforts are a move in the right direction, says Wolfson. But, she says, changing school start times isn't the entire answer. "I think we have to be educating children, parents and teachers about the importance of sleep, just as we educate them about exercise, nutrition and drug and alcohol use."

Toward that end, several public-education efforts are now under way:

With a grant from the Simmons mattress company, Cornell's Maas recently produced a film on teen-age sleep deprivation, its consequences and the "golden rules" for healthy sleep. The film is scheduled for distribution through parent-teacher associations and school principals this fall. In August, Maas also published a children's book, "Remmy and the Brain Train," which discusses why the brain requires a good night's sleep.

Next year, the National Center for Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health plans to release a supplemental sleep curriculum for 10th-grade biology classes, addressing the biology of sleep, the consequences of insufficient sleep and the major sleep disorders. In a related effort, the center is coordinating a sleep-education campaign aimed at 7- to 11-year-olds.

Wolfson and colleague Christine A. Marco, PhD, a psychologist at Worcester State College, are pilot-testing an eight-week sleep curriculum for middle-school students. As part of the curriculum, students keep sleep diaries, play creative games and participate in role-playing about sleep, and set goals--for example, for the amount of sleep they want to get or for regulating their caffeine intake. Preliminary results indicate that the curriculum helps students improve their sleep habits.

"Changing school start times is one critical measure we can take to protect young people's sleep," says Wolfson. "And then, if we can only understand what's going on with sleep in these sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, we can intervene to change their sleep behavior before it gets out of hand."

When it comes to establishing healthy habits, you can teach children how to Act Boldly to Change Diet and Exercise (A.B.C.D.E.)

This article seeks to complement and supplement the APA resolution on school dropout prevention with data from more recent research on child development, early childhood education, and social and emotional learning that helps to define the school dropout dilemma.

Tips and resources for parents about helping their children make better decisions about what they eat to prevent childhood obesity.

Left unchecked, long-term stress can contribute to a long list of physical and mental health problems.

Life in a single parent household — though common — can be quite stressful for the adult and the children.

Teenagers, dealing with hormone changes and issues of identity, sexuality, and alcohol, may feel that no one can understand their feelings, especially parents.

Parents and caregivers make sure children are healthy and safe, equip them with the skills and resources to succeed as adults, and transmit basic cultural values to them.

Take a look at this informative brochure that covers topics including: puberty, peer groups, self-esteem, sexuality, mood swings, rebellion, and much more.

A collection of research studies with a real-world applications, designed to help parents foster high-quality relationships with their children.

What Causes Clients to Feel Tense in Therapy?

Numerous issues can make clients feel anxious or tense in therapy. Some of the most common include:

  • Reluctance to seek treatment. Many clients pursue treatment at the behest of someone else, such as a partner. If a client is only seeking treatment because of someone else, they may not believe in the process or want to openly share their feelings. Clients receiving court-ordered treatment may fear that what they share in therapy will be shared with third parties, or they may be resentful about the treatment. Children may worry the therapist is on their parent&rsquos &ldquoside&rdquo or that the therapist will not respect their confidentiality.
  • The client&rsquos mental health diagnosis. Some mental health conditions make it more difficult to trust a therapist. A person experiencing paranoid delusions may struggle to trust the therapist or worry they are an agent of a third party. A client with posttraumatic stress (PTSD) may fear sharing their story requires reliving their trauma.
  • A history of bad therapy. Some therapists are unskilled or abusive. A client who has seen several therapists in a short period of time may have experienced abusive or ineffective therapy. This can make them reluctant to open up again, though the decision to give therapy another try points to their hope for a different outcome this time.
  • Therapist anxiety and experience. Clients are more likely to discontinue therapy when a therapist is new or unskilled. New therapists may feel anxious in therapy, and those feelings can affect their interactions with clients, making it more difficult for the client to share. Some therapists do not know how to help clients open up. Others feel unusually anxious around silent clients or find these clients trigger their own feelings of insecurity or fears of inadequacy.
  • Trauma. A history of trauma can make it difficult for a client to trust others, including their therapist.
  • Therapist&rsquos body language. Clients do more than listen to what a therapist says. They also observe a therapist&rsquos body language for signs of judgment, discomfort, or boredom. If a client thinks the therapist is not listening or is silently judging them, they may quickly shut down.
  • Fear of judgment. It&rsquos natural to fear judgment, even in therapy. People who seek therapy may never have told anyone else the things they discuss in therapy. It takes time to warm up, and it&rsquos critical that a therapist never make a client feel judged.
  • Client-therapist mismatch. Not all therapists are a good match for all clients. While therapists and their clients do not have to share the same personality or values, they must be able to establish a shared baseline. When the therapist and client have radically different worldviews or approaches, there may be a mismatch. For example, a very conservative Christian client may fear judgment from a very liberal atheist therapist, while the therapist may not know how to help the client live up to their own values.
  • Discomfort in the therapeutic environment. Subtle issues with the therapeutic environment itself can make it more difficult to open up. If the room has thin walls, a client may worry about privacy. A draft, feeling too cold or hot, physical discomfort, and other easily remedied issues may also play a role. In some cases, decorations or other features in the room can undermine a client&rsquos confidence. For example, a client who sees a book that contradicts their own values or that stigmatizes mental health may be reluctant to share.
  • Cultural or religious norms. A person&rsquos views about their own emotional experiences can affect their ability to talk about their feelings. Men who endorse a rigid view of masculinity may have difficulty discussing how they feel, for instance.

Therapists should be willing to address barriers to opening up before asking the client to share the intimate details of their life. Treat discomfort as the first therapeutic issue to be tackled, and listen with an open mind about how therapy makes the client feel.

Stay the Course

The most important thing for you to do is be consistent. "Over time, consistency is the difference between success and failure," Klapow says.

"A good, responsible parent who will walk away and feel great about what he's done is not a parent who avoids conflict with his child," Swanson says. "It is doing what you know is right, and that is to put safety first, your child's better interest for the future second, and happiness last."


David Swanson, PsyD, child and family psychologist author, HELP-My Kid is Driving Me Crazy, The 17 Ways Kids Manipulate Their Parents and What You Can Do About It.

Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist, School of Public Health, University of Alabama, Birmingham, Ala.

Stacy Kaiser, psychotherapist author, How to Be a Grown Up: The Ten Secret Skills Everyone Needs to Know.