Happy parents raise happy kids

Bullying (23): Bully parents

Sad girl with teddy bearBullying parents are a very dangerous phenomenon in our society, because parents are supposed to be the people who protect their kids from bullying. Yet, as I have described in previous chapters, there are many parents who feel weak and lack the emotional intelligence to maintain a sense of control without bullying someone else. Being smaller and weaker makes kids easy targets for them.

It is parents' "job" to provide for their kids' basic needs:

  1. They need to give them a sense of trust
  2. They need to build their kids confidence and prepare them for independent life
  3. They need to provide their kids with a sense of security (physical, social and emotional)
  4. They need to give them a sense of love and belonging
  5. They need to provide their kids with food, drink, air, shelter, education…
  6. They need to provide understanding and support (physically and emotionally)
  7. They need to give them verbal encouragement
  8. They need to provide their kids a sense of fairness within the family
  9. They need to spend with their kids
  10. They need to provide healthy environment (food, physical)

It is not easy to provide for kids all the above needs. However, some parents do the opposite by bullying their kids.

Why are there bully parents?

Parents bully their kids because they have been bullied themselves as children or they are being bullied by someone else (often severely or continuously for a long time - see Workplace Bullying). This creates a never-ending cycle of parents who bully their kids, causing them to grow up and bully their own kids (and other people at work) and so on.

Often, people who have been bullied as children do not realize that their behavior is bullying. When you grow up in a place where bullying is the norm, you accept it as part of life and behave accordingly.

I am sure you have gone to a friend's home many times and discovered that they ran things differently, which questioned the way things are done in your family. In the past, aggressive behavior, physical violence and abuse of power were part of daily life - kids were physically beaten at school with a cane or denied food or sleep as part of a discipline method that was totally controlled by their parents.

When kids are bullied at home and have never learned ways to resolve conflicts peacefully, they react in an aggressive way when things seem to get out of control with their own kids. Had they lived in a home where the parents set a good example of conflict resolution, they would have developed healthy ways to handle challenges and difficulties.

Childhood bullying is also connected to challenge in handling emotions, lack of self discipline and inability to manage stress, which causes people to react in a snappy, impulsive way to things that seem difficult. Because their parents were responsible for teaching communication and used abuse as a way to communicate, they grow up lacking communication skills, which increases their frustration with communication with their kids and makes them more aggressive and violent.

Child abuse poster

Growing up in a home where Dad was abusive towards Mom can send a message that women are weak and need to be controlled, which can be directed later towards kids as well. Some men bully their wives and daughters as a result of growing up in at a time and place where women had no say.

Some parents bully their kids because they are bullied at work. Feeling weak because of lack of power at work increases the risk of neglecting kids from overwork, not being able to support the kids because of emotional drain and lashing out at the kids as an outlet.

Another reason parents are bullies is that they are bullied by their partner, which makes them feel inferior, so they turn on their kids.

There are two forms of parent bullying: Physical, Emotional (including social).

Parents' physical bullying

Physical bullying is an act of physical aggression that causes injury.

  1. Shaking a baby or a toddler (can lead to brain injury)
  2. Drug or alcohol use in pregnancy (can seriously damage the baby)
  3. Physical punishment - linking the child's actions with physical consequences
  4. Beating
  5. Slapping
  6. Hitting
  7. Kicking
  8. Pinching
  9. Pushing
  10. Hair pulling
  11. Throwing the child
  12. Denial of food
  13. Preventing the child from going to the toilet or washing
  14. Making the child to do what the parent wants by physical force
  15. Use of objects to cause pain, like belting or burning the skin with cigarettes or a hot iron
  16. Sexual abuse - any kind of sexual act between an adult and child, including revealing genitals, exhibiting pornography, telling sexual stories, forcing a child to touch adult genitals, sexual intercourse, penetration, rape and child prostitution

Kids are at a higher risk in families living in isolation, orphanages and families in financial crisis. Again, some parents do not even recognize that this behavior is bullying, because they grew up with such parents (or carers) themselves.

Parents' emotional bullying

Emotional bullying is harder to detect, but its impact is huge and last for a long time. Parents sometimes behave in such a way thinking they are doing what is normal or even doing their kids a favor. Parents' emotional bullying can be done by aggressive or passive-aggressive behavior that creates humiliation and/or fear.

  1. Girl hiding her faceThreatening
  2. Name calling
  3. Using foul language
  4. Insulting, especially in public
  5. Creating competitions between siblings
  6. Negative gender-related comments (you play like a girl!)
  7. Negative remarks about preferences
  8. Negative comments about skills
  9. Favoritism towards one child
  10. Causing fear of physical bullying
  11. Sarcasm
  12. Shouting
  13. Unreasonably strict rules
  14. Telling the child it would be better if they were not born
  15. Telling the child the parent does not want him or her
  16. Controlling the child's every movement
  17. Continuous criticism
  18. Competing with the child
  19. Unfair punishment
  20. Violation of the child's privacy
  21. Ignoring and neglect
  22. Uncompromising perfectionism
  23. Exposing the child to violence, drugs, extensive alcohol use or crime
  24. Prevention of social interaction (with friends, other partner, grandparents)
  25. Slavery - helping at home is reasonable, but having to earn enough money to pay for school or for your own food as a child is illegal

In every family, there is some kind of emotional bullying, mainly because there is a fine line between what is considered abuse and what is part of our role as parents. While some call forcing kids to eat what is on the table bullying, others may call it educating them to appreciate money and health. Unfortunately, because the line between them is so fine, parents can, with no bad intention, justify themselves by thinking this is the way they have been brought up or that without it, they will lose control.

Each form of bullying of parents towards their kids causes a problem in their physical and emotional development. Sometimes, it can even affect their cognitive development. The earlier the abuse is and the longer it continues, the more severe the damage will be and the longer it will impact the child's life. In most cases, the effects of a serious act of bullying will be there forever and there is a high probability the abused child will grow up to be a bully too.

Parental bullying information

Here are some findings about the impact of parents' bullying on their kids:

  • Child protection posterMost of the kids who suffer bullying from their parents bully their own kids
  • Kids who suffer from parental bullying become suspicious of other people
  • Kids who suffer bullying by their parents have difficulties maintaining relationships as adults
  • Kids who suffer bullying by their parents have lower self-esteem, problems with concentration, more learning difficulties and lower academic achievements
  • Kids who suffer bullying by their parents are less likely to take on challenges because of fear of failure. They expect less of themselves and achieve less
  • About 80% of kids subjected to long periods of physical abuse develop a mental disorder: depression, panic attacks, paranoia or social isolation
  • Kids who suffer bullying by their parents tend to show aggressive behavior. They sometimes even become extremely violent
  • Some kids who suffer bullying by their parents become self-destructive (self-harm, suicide)
  • Kids who suffer bullying by their parents are more likely to have sleeping problems and eating disorders
  • Kids who suffer bullying by their parents are more likely use alcohol and drugs to ease their emotional pain

The impact on kids' health and wellbeing and their ability to function as independent adults is reduced significantly when growing up with bullying parent.

Join me next week for a self-awareness activity every parent should do to examine their own home and take immediate action.

Until then, happy parenting,

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Ronit Baras

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