Does Your Kid Bully You?

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.

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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?

  1. Really enjoyed this post. It would be so easy to let my child bully me but there is no way I’m going to allow that. Giving in to them creates a vicious cycle and sets them up for a difficult reality when they hit adulthood. I like your point about giving in when they are younger to save embarrassment. I’m guilty of that and it was a hard lesson to learn that giving in can become bad very quickly.

  2. It started as a bad mood, which we all have – my child would rudely demand “get me milk”. In the noisy rush to sit down for dinner, I obliged – anything to get to the table. It wasn’t until this behavior continued repetitively, when my husband reminded me to reset expectations. We had a frank conversation with our 4-yr-old that if you cannot behave kindly, ask nicely and use manners, you can go to bed without dinner. Asking the kind way gets much better results. On my end, it was a reminder to still heavily reward good behavior, like praising “oh you asked so nicely, what a gentleman”. Clearly he wanted attention, I had to rememeber to give it, in the right ways.

  3. Lindleyhs  So true. It is a very hard job not to indulge when you are exhausted, and you cannot expect immediate payoffs. Glad you caught it before it got out of hand. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I pondered your blog as I was driving around yesterday and it made me think about different parenting scenarios that I have witnessed over the past few years, including my own.  I also started thinking about my mom and her approach to parenting.  I have always been in awe that she was capable of raising three kids that turned into 3 well-functioning (well, most of the time), successful adults.  My dad was definitely in the picture but my mom definitely did the brunt of the work.  My mom had me convinced that she knew everything and she was to be respected.   I constantly tested her authority in my teenage years but I never questioned it, if that makes sense.  As I look around restaurants and see families appeasing their only child with a “Dora” show on their iPad, letting kids pick out stuff in the check line to keep them quiet,  I feel like we have become a generation of “I don’t want to deal with it”.  Probably not so much because our kid is “bullying us” but because we are adults that either have too much on own plates and adding discipline to the list at the end of the day would put us over the edge.  But even more so, I think we just don’t want to endure the discomfort that disciplining your kid can cause US as much as them.  I have taken away weekend getaways to Disney for continued bad behavior. It made a very strong point but man did it suck, I really, REALLY wanted to go.  It doesn’t feel good, to say no, to deny them, or to make them cry but we as parents we need to get over it.  I remember simply scolding my oldest with a stern voice and the look on her face BROKE MY HEART.  After two more kids (both of which are boys), I have gotten over it because I have seen the reward of holding my ground. and choosing my battles to win the war.  I don’t have to battle everything or win everyone, but I want to be the mom who is respected my her children and hopefully raises three well functioning, successful adults.  

    As part of development they go through egocentric times, wishing for it all, and testing their boundaries.   As parents,  we need to teach them that you can’t and won’t always get want they want.  It will “sting” both parties involved but we all need to understand that we’ll still be okay.  Not just okay, better because of it. 

    Left unleashed, I agree, we are creating a world of bullies.

    • I could not love this comment more. Yes, parenting means sometimes we are the ones that suffer, and it stinks; but man does it pay off in the end.

      I also know what you mean about your mom. I felt the same way. I just never really questioned…and I knew she would not think twice about punishing me. Glad I had her to raise me.

  5. Hilarious about the “purely hypothetical.”  
    Ditto on raising our kids to be well-functioning adults.   Haven’t we all worked with people in the office that are a pain in the neck and you wonder what happened to them in their youth.  

    Your #2 reminds me how lucky I am to have 3 boys and not 3 girls…  I don’t get the hate yous and you’re so mean.

    My kids are not allowed to say “sucks” or “shut up” or “what”.  When I ask them something, they say “yes, Mom”.  “What” just sounds rude.  They are trained to say “may I” and “yes please” and “thank you”.  When I poured their milk when they were little, I would say “may I have milk please” as I poured their glass.  Somehow it worked.  That’s how they ask for things. 
    I appreciate it when my kids are polite to me but my only hope is that they are polite to other adults when I’m not around.  I know I’ve done my part if they are polite and well mannered to others.

    Parenting is a work in progress.  Always adjusting.  Always looking to improve.

    • Could not agree more! I’m very thankful that my girls are not at that stage yet,and I can only hope that they are scared enough of me to know I will kill them if they say they hate me. 🙂