3 Myths About Parenting a Child With Mental Illness

October 22, 2018 Melissa David

Myths about parenting a child with mental illness can drag you down. Here are three myths about parenting that you should let go.

Myths about parenting a child with mental illness are harmful, so let's straighten some of them out. If your child struggles with mental illness, you've faced judgment and unsolicited advice from almost everybody. None of it compares to the judgment and fear we heap on ourselves. It's easy to get dragged down by ignorance and stigma. Debunking common myths, then, may make the journey through parenting a child with mental illness a little easier.

Myth: Bad Parenting Causes Mental Illness

The term "mental illness" is broad and the "cause" is even broader ("What Causes Mental Illness?: Genetics, Environment, Risk Factors").

Some things, like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are neurodevelopmental.1 This means these children are simply born with differently-wired brains.

Alternatively, there are things like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that are, by definition, triggered by outside events. The child either witnesses or personally experiences an event that could've caused serious harm or death. So, yes, "bad parenting" in the form of abuse and neglect can cause a mental illness like PTSD. However, PTSD can also be caused by natural disasters, living in violent neighborhoods, and other traumas.

Sometimes, genetics plays a role. While researchers haven't found specific genes for specific disorders, certain genes can be passed down to children that make them more likely to develop mental illness. Genes can also affect how someone responds to certain medications.2

So, yes, abusive parenting can trigger certain mental illnesses, but average parents aren't "causing" mental illness with their parenting style. It's really a hodgepodge of factors.

Myth: Parents Medicate Their Children Because They Can't Handle Them

This type of thinking leads to stigma and stigma can prevent people from getting help. Medication needs differ by individual.3 Some children need medication, some don't. Some children need a combination of medication and behavioral interventions. The decision is up to a family, their providers, and whomever they trust.

My family chose medications because my son's hyperactivity and destructive outbursts were so out of control that he couldn't learn. Even worse, he was a danger to himself. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is on a spectrum, so some people can use learned skills to manage it while others, like my son, require medication and intensive classroom supports.

Technically, you could say I "couldn't handle" my son. Not because of poor parenting, though, or a lack of ability or desire. His behaviors were just beyond the point where parenting alone could keep him safe.

Myth: Parenting a Child with Mental Illness Never Gets Better

Prior to my son's hospitalization, after which he turned a new page, I was terrified and angry most days. I often felt helpless. Though I've never resented or hated my child, I have met parents in similar situations who do. Maybe the judgment from others, and the overbearing stigma, finally got to them. Maybe they truly believe their child is a "bad seed" or will never get better.

I've spent over 15 years working with adults with mental illnesses. Some struggled since childhood. Some developed mental illness as adults. Yes, a few have had devastating outcomes. Most, though, get better, and they do it on their own terms.

Never lower your expectations, but consider that you may need to change them. Consider that your expectations of your child's abilities, and your child's actual abilities, may be different. For instance, I was an overachieving child, the type who cried if I got an A- in class. I was planning my college career while in elementary school.

I did not have ADHD.

If I expected my son to operate at the same level I did, I would feel defeated daily. Maybe he'll get there one day, but right now, if he manages Cs this next quarter, that will be amazing. It will mean he managed to successfully transition to middle school, sit in class long enough to get most work done, and not get suspended. Two years ago, I would've thought such a thing impossible.

My son is capable of getting better. Your child is, too. Don't torture yourself with these myths of parenting a mentally ill child.


  1. HealthyPlace. Neurodevelopmental Disorders Community. Accessed October 21, 2018.
  2. National Institute of Mental Health. "Looking at My Genes: What Can They Tell Me About My Mental Health?" Reprinted 2017.
  3. National Institute of Mental Health. "Mental Health Medications". October 2016.

APA Reference
David, M. (2018, October 22). 3 Myths About Parenting a Child With Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 22 from

Author: Melissa David

Melissa David is a mother based out of Minnesota. She has two young children, one of whom struggles with mental illness.The support and wisdom of other parents proved invaluable to her in raising both her children; and so she hopes to pay it forward to other parents via Life With Bob. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

September, 27 2020 at 9:50 pm


Dr Musli Ferati
October, 31 2018 at 11:18 am

Anyway parenting indicates hard and intrigued job that has got many implications to mental health of both counterparts of parenting: children and parents. As to refer to parenting with mentally ill children the issue becomes more intricate, because there exist yet many misunderstanding and primitive prejudices in community on mental diseases. These misconceptions are synonym with your three above mention myths.besides these myths on parenting children with mental disorders it live yet the ill believe that parents are crucial factor to respective mental disorder of theirs children through inheritance. Indeed, parenting isn't the main cause of mental pathology, because mental illnesses have got complex biopsychosocial etiopathogenesis. However, functional parenting has got crucial role and place to appropriate psychiatric treatment of mentally ill children. Parents should be educated with primary parameters of respective mental illness of their children in order to implement psychiatric regime of management concrete mental disorder of theirs children. Health parenting has got great impact to longlasting process of psychiatric treatment and management of respective mental illness of children.

Lizanne Corbit
October, 22 2018 at 7:30 pm

Such a powerful and honest read. Thank you for sharing this very important and helpful insight. Not only is this helpful to current parents, or maybe ones that just found out their child has a mental illness, it also helps other parents as well. This speaks to a lot of misunderstandings that fuel some very serious stigmas. Wonderful post.

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