The Zombie Parent Syndrome

By | October 31, 2012

When a parent is with a young child, yet his/her mind is off somewhere else, the child can sense that the parent doesn’t want to be there.  At the same time, the child instinctively knows that she needs her parent’s’ full presence. To get it, she might try to engage the parent in play, ask questions, or tug and pull.  If that doesn’t work, she’ll ratchet it up and whine or throw something. Maybe she’ll get hyperactive and run around, or even get destructive to create a scene that the parent can’t ignore—what is typically called acting out.

It is crucially important for a parent to be fully present with a child when he is with her. A short amount of quality time is far more valuable to the child than a longer time with the parent only physically present.  Distracted presence—especially when it is repeated—causes more harm than good.  The child adopts a state of chronic neediness, where she will automatically act out in her parent’s presence. And I do mean automatically: she’ll act out whether or not her parent is fully present.

Such seemingly irrational behavior can frustrate a parent to no end, sometimes precipitating in child abuse.  The child often carries the acting-out pattern into adulthood, which manifests as  being a controlling parent and getting involved in manipulative, insincere relationships.  The lifelong repercussions for the child can be so severe that in extreme and unmitigatable cases, I recommend that the parents find a family for their child who can be present with her.

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