Toxic Children: Psychological Traits and Characteristics

When minors are demanding, aggressive, and defiant towards their parents, they can turn the home into a nightmare. Discover the traits that characterize toxic children and how to deal with them.
Toxic Children: Psychological Traits and Characteristics

Last update: 01 October, 2021

We often hear about toxic parents, who are those who attack their children or hinder their development. However, minors can also present certain harmful attitudes, capable of altering the home environment.

Recognizing these traits isn’t easy, due to the disbelief, guilt, or shame that parents may feel. However, acting as soon as possible is essential.

Throughout growth, all children go through difficult times: Separation anxiety, tantrums, pubertal changes, the need for independence of adolescence, and many more. During these tipping points, challenging behavior or attitudes may arise, but this isn’t necessarily a problem. However, when the child becomes a tyrant, the parents can face a real nightmare.

What are the traits of toxic children?

Toxic children usually present the characteristics of the so-called little emperor syndrome: They’re tyrannical, aggressive, and intransigent children who don’t respond to authority.

The relationship between parents and children seriously deteriorates and the home becomes a battlefield, full of stress and suffering. It’s easy to perceive that something’s wrong.

Next, we’ll show you the main traits of toxic children so you can identify them.

1. Challenging behaviors

Challenging behaviors constitute the main alarm signal, as these minors constantly defy authority. They don’t respond to rewards or punishments and don’t accept hierarchy within the family group.

What’s more, they ignore the rules, cross over the limits, and impose their will at all times. They don’t consider discipline as part of their education and are intolerant of any parental attempt to guide their behavior.

2. Low tolerance for frustration

An angry boy screaming.

Toxic children are often impatient and fickle minors, unable to tolerate frustration or postpone gratification. They feel worthy of everything they want and demand it immediately.

They have serious difficulties handling a refusal, either from their parents or for reasons beyond their control. When events don’t unfold the way they want them to, they react with anger and experience great discomfort.

3. Lack of empathy

In general, the social skills and empathy of these young people are underdeveloped. They don’t master assertive communication and don’t take into account the needs, preferences, or opinions of others. They can be insensitive to the pain they cause in others.

In addition, they tend to demand regardless of the enormous sacrifice involved in meeting their demands (be it physical, financial, or emotional). It’s common for them to treat their parents in a derogatory way and even insult or humiliate them.

4. Aggression

Violent and aggressive behaviors are common in toxic children. In general, they occur in response to parental attempts to impose discipline or to the frustration of not being able to achieve what they want. In this way, they break objects, hit walls, or even assault their parents.

5. Manipulation

In addition to physical coercion and threat, these toxic kids can use emotional manipulation to their benefit. They often use guilt, withdrawal of affection, or recrimination to manage their parents’ behavior.

Are toxic children born or made?

In view of all these characteristics, you may be asking if toxic children are born with this personality or are the product of inappropriate upbringing. In reality, both aspects tend to converge.

The earlier these signs appear (such as a lack of empathy or a defiant attitude), the greater the likelihood that there is an underlying genetic factor or psychological disorder. For example, a Conduct Disorder or Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

However, the education provided by parents also plays a fundamental role. Educational styles can shape the personality and attenuate or enhance the characteristics of the child.

It’s very important to review parenting guidelines from childhood and above all, opt for a democratic style, in which love and limits coexist.

If parents are overly authoritarian, children won’t feel heard or valued. They’ll even grow up with resentment and will imitate the arrogant, aggressive, or disrespectful behaviors that they’ve observed in their parents.

On the contrary, if the parents are too permissive, they won’t teach their children to tolerate frustration and to accept the rules of coexistence. Therefore, children will reach adolescence without these valuable tools.

A mother looking into her daughter's eyes as they talk.

Is it possible to avoid this toxic personality?

To prevent your children from developing toxic behaviors, teach them to develop empathy, emotional intelligence, and assertiveness. For this, you must set limits and be firm in their compliance.

After puberty, it’s more difficult to correct family dynamics that don’t work, so it’s essential to act from childhood. Don’t hesitate to seek psychological support to help your family!

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Calvete, E., Gámez-Guadix, M., & Orue, I. (2014). Características familiares asociadas a violencia filio-parental en adolescentes. Anales de psicología30(3), 1176-1182.
  • Quy, K., & Stringaris, A. (2017). Trastorno negativista desafiante. Manual de Salud Mental Infantil y Adolescente de la IACAPAP. Ginebra: Asociación Internacional de Psiquiatría del Niño y el Adolescente y Profesiones Afines.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.