Bully: When The Child Bullies The Parent

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Typically we think of the bully as someone who makes a habit of picking on others during recess in the school yard or during class when the teacher isn’t looking. Quite often this true, but young people don’t just bully their peers. There are a growing number of instances where parents are being bullied by their own children. This is when the child bullies the parent.

Dr. Robin Berman is an American psychiatrist whose new book, too many parents are being emotionally abused by their own children because they have not enforced their parental authority for fear of upsetting their children. This is played out by being overly solicitous and having a difficult time telling their children “no.”

How to recognize a bullied or emotionally abused parent

The bullied mum or dad usually just wants some peace and as a result they begin to hand over control and authority to their willful or indulged children rather than endure constant fighting and mental anguish. This is the parent who is in a situation that involves children who whine, scream, yell, throw things, threaten and even hit. In these cases, too often the parent gives up trying to restore order and feels that the battle is lost. The bullied parent is:

  • Overly fatigued
  • Mentally frustrated
  • Conflicted about discipline
  • Unable to handle his/her child’s behavior
  • Not in control

How can a child bully a parent?

First of all we need to look at the definition of a bully.

A bully is a person who uses physical strength or power (whether perceived or actual) in order to harm or intimidate those who they see as weaker. Some other names for this personality type include: persecutor, oppressor, tyrant, tormentor, thug, ruffian or intimidator.

Given this definition, it becomes a little easier to understand how a parent might be bullied by their child. Here is a likely scenario. A mum is trying to cook the family tea meal and her elementary aged son decides that he wants her to take him to the park right then. She tries to negotiate with him in a pleading tone that resembles a worried friend rather than a mother. The child pounces on this opportunity to upset his mum by becoming more insistent and beginning to tantrum, scream and cry wildly. Next, the child begins to berate the mum accusing her of not loving him, never spending time with him and being a mean mother.

The mum’s frustration and anxiety continues to increase until she finds an excuse for giving in to the child thus encouraging and rewarding bad behavior. The next time the child may even be worse and the mother will grow increasingly timid and fearful of the child’s reaction all in the name of keeping the peace and not upsetting her little angel whose self-esteem may be affected if she scolds or disciplines him as she ought.

What steps must a parent take in order to regain control?

It is important to recognize that parent’s who hand over control and authority are always afraid of their children as much as they are afraid of their behavior. These parents fear how their child will react in situations that are displeasing. The bullying child may obey his or her parent on some points but be assured that in their mind this is a matter where they have allowed the parent to use some semblance of authority. This simply was not a battle ground issue for the child. Be encouraged that setting boundaries and making rules is the foundation for your child’s appropriate good behavior.

In order to regain control, Master Social Worker, James Lehman, suggests you will be able to take back the authority that rightfully belongs to you as the parent.

  1. Create a game plan that includes your instead list. It will look something like this. “When my child starts to tantrum or act out I will leave the store” or “When my child disobeys I will take his electronics and television privileges away.”
  2. Explain the consequences for undesired behavior to your child. Make sure he or she understands how things are going to change and that you will no longer give in to their rants and tantrums. If they are older make sure they know that you believe they are too old to behave the way they have been up until now.
  3. Let them know what to expect. Explain how you plan to react to their inappropriate behavior both at home and in public. Maybe you need to let him or her know that you plan to ignore their behavior during their fit by separating yourself from them physically and pulling out a book to read while they misbehave. The point is regardless of how they try to manipulate and push you into doing what they want you will no longer play along.
  4. Help your child become a problem solver. Discuss their behavior with him or her after they have acted out and try to get them to figure out another response to the situation. Keep in mind they are now recognizing that you meant what you said and you are no longer willing to be bullied or manipulated by them.
  5. Don’t let fear of what others might think influence your response. The truth is people are probably going to judge you anyway. Your issue at hand is helping your child become well-behaved and respectful of your rules and your authority. Don’t let embarrassment cause you to fail at your plan.
  6. Don’t allow your child’s insulting words or behaviors dissuade you from making him or her behave. If you get the old, “I hate you” treatment just take a deep breath and stay the course. You can even try a reply such as, “Well you might hate me right now, but you still have to do the dishes.” Remember that children love their parents, it is instinctual. Even children who have been abused or abandoned love and long for their parents.
  7. You may need help. Realize that will power is a wonderful thing but there will be days when you just want to throw in the towel. Parenting classes or even counseling might be a good choice. Another great option might be to engage a parenting or conflict resolution coach. There are so many great coaches out there in every niche imaginable.
  8. Children crave structure. I’d like to add that children need to know what to expect and when. When structure is lacking they feel insecure and this is often another cause for acting out. Try to create a stable environment in which your child won’t be anxious. Keep the major upheavals to a minimum and avoid living in a state of constant change.

Unfortunately, there may be instances when the situation has escalated to a point where you simply can’t handle your child at home anymore. There are many cases on the books to prove that patricide or matricide is a real possibility when parents and kids collide and the situation gets out of hand. When and if this happens (usually with an older teen child) it is important to get help from an outside agency as soon as you perceive real danger.

If your child is acting out criminally and refuses to stop breaking the law, being abusive or however it is showing up, then it is your responsibility to contact the juvenile authorities and get a professional to help you with accountability often times a probation officer is just what the doctor ordered to get a teen to turn around and stop engaging in dangerous activities, bullying, harassing, truancy and the like.

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