What Is Eggshell Parenting?
The term went viral on TikTok to describe a parenting style that results in children walking on eggshells. Read on to learn more about what eggshell parenting entails and why it’s harmful to children.
By: Ashley Laderer
Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC
August 14, 2023
Table of Contents
Parenting is no easy feat. In addition to meeting your kids’ physical needs, parenting is also about shaping how they feel and grow emotionally. The way that you behave around your children and react to their behavior can have a huge impact on their emotional well-being, even later on in life. Some parenting styles can negatively impact kids’ mental health, including “eggshell parenting.”
As a parent, guardian, or caregiver, you might be engaging in this parenting style without realizing it. The phrase has only recently become extremely popular due to TikTok famous psychologist Dr. Kim Sage whose viral video on eggshell parenting has racked up 4.4 million views and counting.
Here’s what you need to know about what it means to be an eggshell parent, the effects of eggshell parenting on children, and how to break the cycle of eggshell parenting.
Eggshell parenting: What does it mean to be an eggshell parent?
“Eggshell parenting refers to the type of parenting that results in children ‘walking on eggshells’ in response to their parent’s unpredictable behavior and outbursts,” says licensed marriage and family therapist Saba Harouni Lurie.
When children feel like they always need to tip-toe around and walk on eggshells to maintain a sense of safety and avoid setting off their parent’s emotional reactions, it creates an unhealthy parent-child relationship dynamic that can significantly impact a child’s well-being.
“Parents engaging in eggshell parenting are usually erratic and inconsistent. While they may sometimes be caring and empathetic, they will often blow up at their children and blame them for their eruptions,” Lurie says. “The children cannot predict when their parents will be reactive and explosive.”
Kids with eggshell parents can’t predict when their parents will react because their parents’ emotional ups and downs typically have inconsistent themes or triggers, explains licensed marriage and family therapist Dana McNeil. She says eggshell parents’ reactions can be inappropriate or overly reactive, and they may be easily frazzled or frustrated, even by typical, normal age-appropriate behaviors their kids are engaging in. Additionally, eggshell parents might have inconsistent boundaries with their children.
“These parents may become easily triggered by situations involving their children and may respond in ways that imply to the child that they are responsible for the emotional satisfaction of their parents,” McNeil says. The reality is, a child is not responsible for this –– but parents engaging in eggshell parenting can make them feel that way.
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What are the negative consequences of eggshell parenting?
Every child is different, but generally speaking, eggshell parenting can seriously affect children’s mental well-being as they grow up.
“Eggshell parenting can harm children because instead of learning to self-regulate and express themselves authentically, parents model emotional outbursts and dysregulation,” Lurie says. “Constant unpredictability can lead to constant hypervigilance in children, which can have physical and emotional ramifications.” This hypervigilance includes the child’s need to walk on eggshells and constantly monitor their environment for any signs of impending outbursts. They are always on their toes on the lookout for perceived danger.
Additionally, kids of eggshell parents might take on the responsibility of soothing their parents and prioritizing their parents’ needs at the cost of their own emotions, Lurie says. However, this self-imposed role reversal can lead to confusion and be a huge emotional burden for the child. Learning this behavior early on in life can potentially result in an ongoing pattern of prioritizing others’ emotions over their own –– even in relationships outside of their family.
Furthermore, it’s important to consider the effect of eggshell parenting on a child’s attachment style, which is based on attachment theory. This theory states that your early relationships with your caregivers strongly influence your future relationships. In short, the way your parents or caregivers treated you when you were young can shape how you see relationships and relate to other people throughout your life. Typically, children who grow up with the most healthy parent-child relationships will develop a secure attachment style, which lends itself to healthy relationships and healthy attachments to a partner later in life.
However, eggshell parenting can lead to less ideal attachment styles. “When a child grows up with a parent who is inconsistent with their own emotional stability or can’t show up for their children with dependable emotional support, then the child is more likely to develop an anxious or avoidant attachment response,” McNeil says.
An anxious attachment style is when someone often feels worried about being abandoned or not being loved enough. People with this style might seek a lot of reassurance and validation from others, including romantic partners, and they may get easily anxious if they feel any uncertainty in their relationship. On the other hand, an avoidant attachment style is when someone is more comfortable keeping their distance and not relying too much on others. People with this style might have a hard time fully opening up emotionally or depending on others.
Eggshell parenting can teach children to model emotional outbursts and dysregulation from their parents.
Children of eggshell parents might develop constant hypervigilance, always on the lookout for potential emotional outbursts.
These children may take on the role of soothing their parents, prioritizing their needs over their own, leading to confusion and emotional burden.
Eggshell parenting can affect a child’s attachment style, influencing their future relationships and ability to relate to others.
The link between eggshell parenting and C-PTSD
The impacts of having an eggshell parent can extend far into a child’s life, affecting many aspects of their well-being and future relationships. McNeil says that one potential outcome of eggshell parenting is complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD).
“The complexity becomes compounded because not only does the child have to work on healing and coping from the repeated and ongoing experience of their parent’s behavior, but they also must learn to deal with the aftermath,” she explains.
The ongoing trauma a child experiences due to an eggshell parent intensifies over time, and the child likely cannot escape this trauma since they live with this family member. “A history of chronic trauma and not having your emotional needs met, including your need for safety, can result in difficulty self-regulating and feeling very angry or distrustful towards the world,” Laurie explains. “Living in a state of chronic fear due to a parent’s unpredictability and emotional abuse can result in C-PTSD.”
Ultimately, eggshell parenting can be considered a form of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse involves behaviors that harm a person’s self-worth, confidence, and emotional well-being through ongoing patterns of manipulation or mistreatment. In the case of eggshell parenting, the volatile and unpredictable environment created by the parent’s behavior can cause significant emotional distress. Emotional abuse, particularly in childhood, is often linked to C-PTSD.
Furthermore, the link between C-PTSD and eggshell parenting goes the other way around, too. Laurie says that parents who engage in eggshell parenting are often struggling with C-PTSD themselves. “These parents have probably experienced their own difficulties in childhood, with inconsistent and dysregulated parents,” she says.
Who is most prone to becoming an eggshell parent?
Certain people may be predisposed to being eggshell parents. Typically, parents experiencing mental health struggles are candidates for developing eggshell parenting styles, McNeil says.
On top of C-PTSD being a risk factor, McNeil notes that mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, and active substance use disorder, can impact a parent’s ability to regulate their emotions, which can impact their children. Additionally, she says personality disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder can have a similar effect.
Furthermore, eggshell parenting can, in a sense, be passed down from parent to child. McNeil says that people who grew up with their own experience of living with eggshell parents may end up engaging in this parenting style when they have kids of their own.
How to break the cycle of eggshell parenting
Do you think you might be an eggshell parent? If so, it’s important to act now to create a healthy, supportive environment for your child. Reflecting on your parenting approach and its potential impact on your child’s emotional well-being is the first step toward positive change.
Laurie says the first step to changing your behavior is to be honest with yourself and acknowledge that this is how you’ve been parenting –– and this won’t always be easy. Take a step back and examine how you’ve been behaving around your children.
“All parents have a bad day from time to time or may struggle to remain calm and purposeful when their child is having an epic tantrum. Eggshell parenting refers to a pattern of unpredictable and abusive behaviors that leave children feeling insecure, afraid, and anxious,” Laurie explains. So, if you’re aware that this type of behavior is relatively consistent, especially over the course of months or even years, this could be a sign that you are an eggshell parent. It’s not possible to be a mind reader, and you might not always be aware of how your child is feeling, and they likely won’t tell you that they feel like they’re walking on eggshells –– but you can try to develop the self-awareness to determine when you might be causing them to feel that way.
“You may feel confused or ashamed, and while it may be difficult, I encourage you to have compassion for yourself,” Laurie says. “If this is what you experienced in childhood or if you’ve endured trauma in adulthood, it makes sense that it’s difficult for you to self-regulate and to appropriately respond to your children, especially when they’re being children –– yelling, throwing a tantrum, making a mess, or being loud.”
In this case, Laurie says it’s crucial to learn how to parent yourself, which includes:
- Learning how to self-soothe
- Learning how to self-regulate
- Turning inwards to tune into and respond to your own emotions
- Taking accountability when you make mistakes
On top of addressing any past trauma contributing to your eggshell parenting, it’s important to address any other mental health concerns that could affect your ability to regulate your emotions and level out emotional instability. You may also address any inconsistent or unhealthy boundaries that exist in your parent-child relationship.
“Learning how to develop a new relationship with yourself and your children is a process –– and not one that will happen overnight. For many, this process will require the assistance of a licensed, trauma-informed therapist,” Laurie says.
How Charlie Health can help
If a teen or young adult in your life, such as your child, is struggling with their mental health, Charlie Health may be able to help. Our virtual intensive outpatient program (IOP) provides personalized services for teens, young adults, and families dealing with a wide range of mental health concerns.
Charlie Health supports the whole family with family therapy that helps bring loved ones together to learn healthy communication and conflict-resolution skills. This therapy focuses on the whole family system, not just individual family members. Additionally, family support groups offer supplemental guidance and community.
Contact Charlie Health to learn more today.