Every once in a while, I hear a story about bullying in children in which a parent is the bully. This is one of those shocking and taboo ideas in parenting. No one likes discussing blatant bad parenting unless it’s physical abuse, sexual molestation and drug addiction. Every other type of child neglect gets an explanation and a disclaimer to stop judging another mom and stop assuming against a dad. If bullying in schools is harmful, isn’t bullying at home worse?
What is bullying?
According to the StopBullying.gov website, bullying is defined as “…unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.” Let’s dissect that for a minute and transfer school-aged children into a family dynamic. We find a real and perceived power imbalance in parent and child relationships, even healthy ones. Repeated behaviors at home in other topics lead to habits, and it seems reasonable to make the jump that this applies to bullying parents and their children. Threats, rumors, physical and verbal abuse, and emotional and mental manipulation are all actions at the disposal of a parent. Sadly, I believe we could all think of a parent bully off the top of our heads. We just don’t talk about it, because it makes us sound judgmental and meddlesome.
How to help a bullied child?
Help the parent first. Make them aware of your observations. Sometimes parents do not realize the harm they are causing for a variety of perceptual reasons and justifications. Provide support if a parent is overwhelmed with stress and professional commitments. Give the parent a chance to acknowledge their behavior.
Abuse and bullying – the same?
After researching some information on child abuse and bullying behaviors, there are many characteristics of emotional and mental abuse from a parent that are consistent with bullying by a parent. It may be hard to differentiate between a little “tough love” and aggressive parenting. In short, abuse and neglect are technically two different things, but both can be considered bullying by a parent. That’s my summary of the information.
Fortunately, in New Jersey, emotional maltreatment falls under child abuse and the New Jersey State’s Department of Children and Families pays some attention to non-physical and non-sexual types of abuse. If a child displays extremes in aggression or compliance, there may be something a little off with the parent and child relationship. This doesn’t mean the mom or dad is a bad person. This simply means the child may be reacting to overwhelming behavior by displaying physical habits, like sleep issues, oral fixations and social challenges to cope with mom and/or dad. Just like the big bully in the school yard may force a child to fake illness at recess in an effort to stay indoors, a child may take on survival instincts to cope with a parent’s behaviors, too.