It used to be that kids were scared of their parents. Now parents seem scared of their kids.
A TIME magazine article came out recently that I found fascinating. “How Children Have Become Their Parents’ Bullies” underscored something that I feel like I have seen time and time again: parents so scared of upsetting their child that they give in to their every whim.
The piece begins with a situation we have all lived out a thousand times. A mom is in a toy store to buy a birthday present. Her son throws a fit because he wants the toy. Instead of sticking to her guns, the beaten-down woman relents and ends up purchasing not one, but two toys. Lesson learned for the boy: If you are relentless in your whining, no means maybe, which turns into Mom will do whatever she has to do to get out of the store without the manager calling the Department of Child Services.
When our kids are younger, I believe we relent for fear of embarrassment. It sucks when you are at the grocery store and your child is lying in the middle of the aisle with snot running down the side of her nose because you won’t buy her the Kit Kat bar (purely hypothetical). And for sure that is when you will see the mom whose five kids under five are behaving like angels, just to make you feel a little bit worse about yourself.
Then, as our kids get older, we hate saying no because we don’t want to lose them, so we give them what we think they want, just to hear that “I love you mommy” one more time.
But this is where the author is brilliant. By giving in after they beat us down, we do end up creating bullies. By definition “to bully” means to use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.
That is exactly what is happening in these types of parent-child relationships.
I have seen a four-year-old slap his mom across her face and not get more than a verbal reprimand (because I was there). I watched a mom buy her son a violent Xbox game at Target because he was freaking out. And I cringed when a friend told me she extended her daughter’s curfew after she told her she hated her and wanted to move out. I believe my well-intentioned friend also took her shopping.
This leads me to offer the following non-professional, non-medical commentary/advice to anyone who gives in to their child’s bullying tactics:
1. I solemnly swear that if I see you at Trader Joe’s, Target, or Toys ‘R’ Us (or anywhere else) and your child pitches a fit for any reason, I will personally applaud your efforts to hold strong. Seriously, I will be in the background cheering you on. There is no embarrassment in sticking to your guns. To me, there are times when parenting is about winning, and you should only be embarrassed if you let your kid beat you.
2. Kids, and especially tweens/teens, are so much smarter than we give them credit for. They smell fear and thrive when engaging in psychological war fare. You see, kids know that we all want to be good parents, and they know we are unsure about what we’re doing. When kids respond to our saying no or setting limits with, “You are so mean,” or the crushing “I hate you,” it hits us right in the jugular. It makes us question ourselves as parents and the decisions we’re making on their behalf. Do we want to risk pushing our kids away? Do we want them to think we are uncool? Will they hate me forever or just until The Voice is over?
The answer is yes, so what, and probably not that long! Discipline is a gift we give our children that they can take with them for the rest of their lives. Limits are often about safety, for them and for others. Respecting (appropriate) authority and understanding rules will take them far. These are all important life skills.
Sometimes we have to parent blindly—but with resolve—knowing that we will make mistakes. But we cannot let our kids’ words and actions stray us from the course. Yes, we have to pick and choose our battles, but we have to come out on top at the end. It’s our duty as parents.
Because it is a war we are fighting to bring up good kids. In today’s 24/7 always-on culture, there is a lot of noise out there that children are exposed to each and every day, and if we don’t have control in our own homes, how can we expect our kids to have control out in the real world? If they think they can whine and cry to get their way with us as parents, how do you think they will act towards their teachers, their friends or their future employers?
I for one hope we stand shoulder to shoulder in this war, standing up to each and every bully. In turn, I hope we mold compassionate, kind adults.
Because I plan on winning this war. I hope you do to.
The author of the article, Dr. Robin Berman, is the author of a great book: Permission to Parent. It’s all about parenting with love and limits, which is a nicer companion to my post Why I Don’t Negotiate With Terrorists.
Does your kid bully you? What parenting tactics do you use to combat parental bullying?
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