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Uninvolved Or Neglectful Parenting: Examples and Effects


By Mona Bapat, PhD, HSPP Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Uninvolved parenting, or neglectful parenting, occurs when parents demonstrate low levels of nurturing, warmth and love toward their child, and little involvement in their life. If you're concerned that you might be a neglectful parent, it can be useful to know the characteristics of the uninvolved parenting style, and how being uninvolved impacts your child. You can also learn how to become more present and engaged in your child's development and activities to help promote their well-being.

Characteristics of Uninvolved Parenting

Neglectful parents tend to be "hands off" in various parts of their child's life and development. This leads to a heavy imbalance between tending to themselves versus their child. Parents who are uninvolved most of the time tend to:

  • Ignore their child
  • Prioritize their needs over those of their child
  • Be consumed with their work
  • Be consumed with their own interests

Reasons Why Parents Might Be Uninvolved

It's easy to wonder why parents can be so neglectful and removed when it comes to their child. At the same time, there is often more than meets the eye when it comes to things parents might be struggling with that can lead to this type of parenting. Some reasons parents may be uninvolved are:

  • They are struggling with their own mental health issues.
  • Their own emotional needs are not being met.
  • They are overwhelmed with various responsibilities.
  • They had a similar relationship with their parents.

Examples of What Uninvolved Parenting Looks Like

There are a number of different ways in which parents might act neglectful of their children. Some examples include:

Spending Little Quality Time With Their Child

Parents who use an uninvolved style of parenting might do something such as keep their child occupied with another activity most of the time, so they can spend time on work or their own hobbies. For example, they might have their child spend most Saturday afternoons watching TV, while they choose to spend time with friends or work in the home office.

Ignoring Child's Bids for Interaction

An example of a bid for interaction is when a five-year-old excitedly tries to show their parent something they made with LEGO, and the parent either quickly looks at the toy and says "uh huh, that's nice" or completely ignores the child.

Having Little to No Involvement in Child's Schooling

When a parent has no involvement in their child's experiences at school, they are unaware of what the child is learning and how they are performing. If a child asks a parent to sign a permission slip or a notice of failing a test, the parent may blindly sign it without asking the child about it.

Leaving Their Child to Fend for Themselves

Another example of neglectful parenting is when parents don't provide meals for their child. If they are busy working and the child asks them what is for dinner, the parent might tell them to heat up a microwave dinner and leave them to eat on their own.

Lacking Disciplinary Structure

Parents with a neglectful style provide their child very little structure, because they are not putting much effort into any aspect of parenting. They have very few rules, they don't pay attention to their child's behavior (good or bad), and they do not have established consequences for bad behavior.

While all of these types of scenarios could happen every now and again (no parent is perfect), an uninvolved parent does these things the majority of the time.

Effects of Uninvolved Parenting on Kids

Parents are the first people in a child's life; and a child first learns about interpersonal communication from their relationship with their parents. Therefore, if a parent is neglectful, a child feels that they are unimportant. They also lack opportunities to learn certain life skills typically taught by parents. As a result, children with neglectful parents are more likely to:

Some uninvolved parents may truly lack any interest in their kids. However, it is possible that parents who seem neglectful during certain times are experiencing stressors such as increased job demands or other family or personal issues.

It is important to remember that you are human, and therefore not perfect. Moreover, there are things you can do to turn things around for your child and your relationship with them.

Forging Connections Instead of Being Uninvolved

Some things you can do to start connecting with your child are:

  • Verbally acknowledge to your child that you have been unavailable to them and you want to change that.
  • Begin to increase interactions with your child. For example, eat dinner together with the TV and cell phones off, while giving your child your undivided attention.
  • Ask your child open-ended questions to become informed of what is happening with them. Open-ended questions are inquiries that cannot be answered with a "yes" or "no." For instance, "What happened today at school that really surprised you?"
  • Seek help for yourself. If you are struggling mentally or emotionally in any way, seek therapy to deal with those issues. Improving yourself will allow you to be a better parent.
  • Seek counselling or parenting classes if you need help with parenting. Parenting is not easy, and asking for help is very common.

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Take Active Steps Toward Change

You are the most important and influential person in your child's life. It is never too late to acknowledge your mistakes and work on being a nurturing parent. Taking active steps such as the ones listed above will help yield positive change.

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