Eggshell parenting is when a parent displays unstable moods, outbursts, and inconsistent behaviors, causing their children to walk on eggshells around them. In this Parents article, Mindpath Health’s Zishan Khan, MD, explains eggshell parenting and how to avoid this parenting style.
A psychiatrist on TikTok is calling attention to a parenting style known as “eggshell parenting.” The psychiatrist, who goes by @drkimsage, on TikTok posted a video explaining the style in May.
“At the heart of emotionally unsafe parenting is real emotional endangerment…it’s a way of putting a child in a position where they have to always be hypervigilant to what may or may not happen next,” Dr. Sage told followers. “Even if you are loving and safe and wonderful, if it follows that you can be unsafe, at the core, you are not safe.”
“It is important to discuss eggshell parenting, aside from its growing popularity on TikTok, because many parents don’t realize they are parenting this way,” says Zishan Khan, MD, a board-certified child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist with Mindpath Health. “From my professional experience, no one chooses to parent this way—it’s just how they are.”
What does it mean to be an eggshell parent?
Anna Hindell, LCSW-R, CIYT, a psychotherapist and yoga teacher, says the term was popularized by Dr. Sage and is derived from the phrase “walking on eggshells.”
Dr. Khan says that the basis of eggshell parenting is unpredictability. “When a parent is prone to going from 0 to 60 in a moment’s notice, or worse—appears to be triggered by things that are not at all obvious to the child—it is easy to understand why there may be a negative impact on a child that is continuously exposed to this,” Dr. Khan says. “It is common for eggshell parents to switch moods rapidly.”
The most extreme cases of eggshell parenting involve severe psychological abuse that can trigger a role reversal between the parent and child. “The child feels responsible for their parent’s care and feels guilty when things don’t go their parent’s way,” Dr. Khan says.
Examples of eggshell parenting
Say a child comes home with a test score. The parent congratulates them. After dinner, the parent berates the child for not getting a better grade.
Threats can also play into eggshell parenting.
“One client told me that her mother threatened to kick her out of the house as a teenager if she got her hair cut short,” says Shari Botwin, LCSW and author of Thriving After Trauma.
Eggshell parenting vs. occasional parental rage
It’s oversimplifying, but the rise of “gentle parenting” has seen parents trying to avoid common discipline methods like timeouts and yelling. Instead, they seek to arm their children with ways to identify and cope with emotions. Still, no parent is perfect and may snap and yell at a child.
The risks of eggshell parenting
Hindell says eggshell parenting can lead to long-term difficulties for children, including:
How to break the cycle of eggshell parenting
Whether an eggshell parent raised you, if you fear you are one, or both, Dr. Khan says there’s hope and healing.
“Is one doomed if they realize they are eggshell parents or discover their mother or father raised them in such a way? Not at all,” Dr. Khan says. “The best thing they can do is try and break the cycle by improving how they respond to stressful situations.”
He shared tips for how to do that.
The most important advice Dr. Khan can give parents is to become aware of eggshell parenting. “This involves recognizing examples of eggshell parenting,” he says.
Dr. Khan suggests asking yourself:
- Do people sometimes find it challenging to interact with you because of your frequent unpredictable mood swings?
- When something happens, even relatively minor, do people worry about how you will respond?
Consider repairing conflicts
Resolving lingering conflicts with eggshell caregivers can be healing.
“One way of doing this is by being open and vulnerable with the parent, understanding there is a chance they will continue their gaslighting and narcissistic behavior,” Dr. Khan says. “Listen to what they say in response and try not to shame or make them feel guilty, as this can hamper your efforts at avoiding the common characteristics of eggshell parents.”
Dr. Khan understands these conversations can be tricky, and boundaries and managing expectations are essential to protecting yourself.
Seek professional help
You don’t have to go it alone. Dr. Khan says a mental health professional can help you heal from childhood wounds and avoid adapting eggshell parenting with your child (or find ways to regulate so you can stop using the style). Dr. Khan explains that some tactics a therapist may use include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you reframe thoughts and experiences.
- Psychodynamic psychotherapy helps discern what triggers emotional instability.
- Interpersonal therapy to improve interactions with others, including loved ones.
A psychiatrist can also prescribe medication if needed. The ultimate goal is to help you manage your well-being so you can fill your children’s cups, too. “All this will translate to your family feeling more safe and secure with you and the environment at home,” Dr. Khan says.