How Pushover Parents Raise Bullies

... and 4 ways to take back control.

Posted Jan 06, 2017

joyfuldesigns/Shutterstock
Source: joyfuldesigns/Shutterstock
We've all witnessed children or teenagers disrespecting their parents: They yell at them, curse at them, and even hit them. You may shake your head, cancel playdates, or forbid your children from hanging out with such a terror, but the problem is bigger than you think: Kids who bully their parents are everywhere.

When I wrote When Kids Call the ShotsI thought I was writing about a small group of children and teens I was seeing in my psychotherapy practice. Since the book was published, I’ve received hundreds of calls, emails, and letters from parents. My workshops about undoing bullying behaviors at home are in demand, and the book has been translated into Chinese, Korean, and Russian.

I’ve written at length here about bullying behaviors in children that occur at home (3 Types of Children Who Bully Their Parents; 3 Errors Parents Make When Their Own Kids Bully Them; 3 Reasons Why Parents Let Their Kids Bully Them). And I’ve explored the complex reasons that result in parents failing to provide structure, set limits, and teach boundaries.

Now I want to examine what happens when these bullying behaviors in childhood go unchecked, look at who pays the price, and discuss what to do about them.

The Consequences of Unaddressed Bullying at Home

When parents fail to resolve bullying behaviors at home, the negative consequences spill out into the world. A child who bullies his or her parents brings these negative traits into all of their relationships:

  • An excessive hunger for instant gratification.
  • Poor frustration tolerance.
  • Lack of impulse control.
  • Ingrained narcissism.
  • Little empathy or compassion for others.
  • No interest in altruistic or charitable activities.
  • Impaired social relationships.
  • Potentially violent and abusive behaviors toward peers.

These negative imprints from their childhood or teen years extend into adulthood. As adults, they are more likely to:

  • Verbally, emotionally, or physically abuse a spouse.
  • Suffer from addiction or alcoholism.
  • Develop obesity-related health problems.
  • Engage in erratic or poor finances.
  • Manipulate and lie to get what they want.
  • Promote the scapegoating or villainizing of others.

The Consequences for Parents

Parents who allow their children to bully them may suffer the most long-term effects. As adults, bullying children are more likely to:

  • Fail to provide care for elderly parents.
  • Remain financially dependent on parents.
  • Steal from or mismanage their parents' finances.
  • Promote conflict between siblings and relatives.
  • Continue to emotionally, physically, or verbally abuse their parents.

I’ve witnessed many children who bully their parents become bullying adults who wreak havoc in families or grow into abusive parents or spouses. Sadly, they never learned better ways of expressing frustration, self-soothing, or engaging in mature communication. Without intervention, they continue having temper tantrums and blaming others.

If You're Being Bullied By Your Child

The longer these behaviors are in place, the harder they are to undo. To reverse bullying, you’ll need to gather the right support. Yes, I’m asking you to break the silence on your situation, ask for help, and begin to share your parenting struggles with others. Here’s why: Being bullied by your kid is always accompanied by feelings of shame. Time and again, parents try to hide their situation. They put on a good face in public while suffering silently in private. The reality is that bullying must be handled directly. It won’t end until you have the courage to stop it.

These four tips can help you address the young bully in your home:

1. Unite with your spouse or partner.

United parenting is crucial to reestablishing trust and respect with your kids. If your child bullies you and not your partner, it’s likely that you have contrasting parenting styles. Nothing is worse for a child’s emotional health than to be caught in the crossfire between bickering parents.

When parents are divided in their parenting, the imbalance throws off the family dynamic. The split can disrupt a kid’s sense of well-being and create a split in his feelings toward each parent. Trying to make sense of parents’ contradictory and inconsistent communications causes mental stress and a mess of internal conflicts. And poor modeling by parents normalizes negative or aggressive behaviors. Kids who witness their parents’ poor modeling may decide:

  • It’s okay to bully someone you love.
  • It’s okay to yell at or belittle someone you care for.
  • Name-calling or verbal attacks are acceptable when frustrated.

This is why it’s crucial for parents to never stop working on their relationship. Whether married, separated, or divorced, they must strive to work as a team and collaborate for the well-being of their children. When conflicts arise, parents should model how to work through them effectively—without resorting to combat or bullying.

This doesn’t mean you and your spouse have to agree on everything; that would be unrealistic (and just plain weird). Parenting is full of complications and changing circumstances, so there will always be disagreements. You can still disagree and stay united in your parenting choices.

2. Enlist your friends and family.

Bullied parents are everywhere. These days, everybody knows one. So there’s no need to feel embarrassed about your situation. Chances are, your friends and family already sense your struggle, no matter how secretive you have tried to be. You’ll be surprised how eager they are to help out and how much better you’ll feel after enlisting their support.

3. Involve school officials.

I spent more than 10 years working with struggling parents in the New York City public school system. During that time, I discovered that the parents who needed the most help rarely stepped forward. In fact, the more trouble they had at home, the less likely they were to ask for help.

Maybe they felt embarrassed, weary, or distrustful of school officials. Maybe they suffered from anxiety or depression. One thing’s for sure: Remaining isolated only made their difficulties worse.

Asking for help is never easy. But being a good parent requires the willingness to put up with personal discomfort for your child’s benefit.

You may fear what other parents will say; you may worry about family members or neighbors judging you. But when you put aside such fears and ask for help, you become a stronger person—the kind of parent that a bullying kid needs.

Guidance counselors, school psychologists, and other school officials have access to support services in the school in addition to neighborhood resources such as counseling and tutoring centers. But first you have to break your silence.

4. Seek professional help.

Never has there been so much professional care and support for parents. The internet is full of parenting sites, podcasts, and videos. Libraries, bookstores, and community centers host discussions with experts. Psychotherapists and social workers in schools and private practices specialize in parenting. If you decide to consult with a therapist, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Contact your child’s school guidance counselor. Experienced school counselors have an excellent grasp of local child/adolescent therapists. They can provide you with reliable referrals to professionals who specialize in children and parents.
  • Attend parenting workshops or lectures. Schools, therapy institutes, parenting organizations, and youth centers offer free lectures and workshops for parents. Listening to therapists discuss their work and explain the therapeutic process can serve as a wonderful introduction to the world of therapy. You’ll also benefit from the questions other parents ask. If you appreciate a particular therapist’s presentation, contact him or her for a consultation.
  • Get a referral from a trusted friend. A friend who has had a positive experience with a therapist may be your most reliable source for a referral. Find out how the process unfolded. Investigating your friend’s experience will save you a lot of time and energy, and will point you in the right direction.

Don’t Wait: Get Help

For more than 20 years, bullied parents have been visiting my office seeking advice and guidance. Those who are proactive about getting help for themselves and their kids always win in the end.

To schedule a parenting workshop, view videos or articles, or order your copy of my book ,visit www.seangrover.com.