Children usually thrive in a secure environment where they feel safe and loved. Inconsistent parenting might occur in a variety of situations, including illness or simply a lack of understanding about the importance of creating a stable home environment for children. If inconsistent parenting occurs, expect some common effects in children.
Confusion and Insecurity
When a child cannot predict how a parent will respond in a situation or the child does not know that a parent will be there to support and guide him, confusion and insecurity often results, warns the University of Alabama Parenting Assistance Line. The youngster who does not have this security realizes that he cannot trust and count on his parents to meet his needs. If a daily routine lacks consistency, a child often feels confused and insecure because the schedule of activities such as meals, playing and bedtime will be different and unknown every day.
Fear and Anxiety
Parents who fail to raise children with consistent expectations, rules and consequences can create fear and anxiety in the youngsters, warns HEARD Alliance, a health care alliance for adolescent depression. The lack of consistency about rules and consequences makes it difficult for children to know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. This mystery often leads to fear and anxiety because a child does not know whether to expect praise or punishment for actions. A child might also expect a specific consequence for an action, but if it does not occur, the child feels anxious due to the confusion.
If inconsistent parenting continues over time, a child might develop ambivalent feelings toward the parent, warns marriage and family therapist Joe Jardine. Mistrust from broken promises and lack of follow-through often breeds rebellious behavior in the child. The child rejects the parent and angrily pursues negative risk-taking behaviors designed to communicate hurt, fear and anger stemming from the inconsistent parenting.
With inconsistency in a home environment, parentification often occurs. Parentification involves a role reversal of a parent and child, with the child taking on the parent’s role in caring for or nurturing the parent, states psychotherapist Samuel Lopez De Victoria, writing for the PsychCentral website. A child may sacrifice her own needs in an attempt to care for the parent’s emotional needs or to perform the parent’s role in the family. A distracted or emotionally removed parent might lead to a child attempting to compensate with parentification.