Book Preview: When Kids Call the Shots

Why Do Good Parents Find Themselves Bullied?

Parenting is a roller coaster ride filled with highs and lows, joys and despair — elation, dejection, euphoria and hopelessness. Some children are easier than others.  Some are more accommodating by nature, they accept your authority without protest, and go through their developmental stages with limited rebelliousness. They can even handle their own problems with equilibrium.  Then there are those kids who are moody, anxious or aggressive; they argue about everything from the shape of pasta that they will eat to when it’s time for sleep, or what’s a fair curfew. Other kids may have a very difficult time handling social or academic problems and come home near exploding with repressed feelings.  And of course there is everything in between.

Sometimes, no matter what you do, the volatile, anxious or “in your face” child is too overwhelming. You simply can’t handle the onslaught of complaints, demands or refusals.  To buy some peace, you surrender; you give your kid what he or she wants just to put an end to all the drama. But the peace you bought has a short shelf life. In no time your kid is bossing you around again and you feel miserable, with the added sting that you’ve just “been had.” The fact is, giving in to children’s demands should never be confused with meeting their needs. A strong, confident parent trumps any ice cream cone, new clothes or electronic gizmos you can buy.

How Bullying Hurts Your Child

Every parent’s primary task is to help their kids grow into emotionally healthy adults. Parents who allow their kids to boss them around actually impede the child’s maturing process and promote a host of psychosocial problems. Children who boss around their parents are more likely to suffer from:

-Social problems: increased delinquent and manipulative behaviors, increased friction with siblings and peers, poor attunement with others.

-Emotional problems: low frustration tolerance, poor impulse control, diminished capacity for empathy, immature behaviors.

-Academic problems: conflict  with teachers, difficulty working in groups, homework refusal, not working up to academic potential

The truth is children who bully their parents are unhappy. Somewhere behind their incessant bossiness is a distressed kid who needs help and who is suffering because he is bullying his parent and getting away with it.  In contrast, when parents are solid in their leadership, children feel more secure and they enjoy an environment that feels solid enough for them to air their problems.

To begin to resolve bullying issues at home, let’s step into the world of the bullying child and find the hidden message in their destructive behaviors.

Meet the Bullies: Children Most Likely to Bully their Parents

Though all children have unique personalities and temperaments, children who bully their parents share many common traits and are likely to fit into one of the three personality types:

1. “It’s all your fault!”:  The Defiant Bully

  • Does your kid scream “No!” in your face and back you into a corner?

  • Is your child constantly threatening and mistreating you?

  • Are you afraid of opposing your kid and inciting his or her wrath?

  • Does your child intimidate and terrorize you until you don’t give into his or her demands?Oppositional, angry and cantankerous, these in-your-face kids are the most challenging bullies. They constantly oppose you and will stop at nothing to defeat you.  In some cases this may be because in other environments, such as school, she may feel constrained and  beaten down.

Oppositional, angry and cantankerous, these in-your-face kids are the most challenging bullies. They constantly oppose you and will stop at nothing to defeat you.  In some cases this may be because in other environments, such as school, she may feel constrained and  beaten down.

2. “I need you all the time”: The Anxious Bully

  • Does your child constantly torment you with worries and fears?

  • Does you kid bulldoze you with anxieties until you surrender to his or her pleas?

  • Is your child always on the verge of a nervous breakdown and once he’s unloaded on you, feels better  but leaves you sleepless and terrified?

  • Is your kid’s angst-filled hounding sucking the joy out of your life and damaging your family?

Less aggressive than defiant children (but equally as debilitating) anxious children drive you crazy with their constant neediness, complaints and demands. Their strategy? Sometimes it’s to wear you down until you finally give into their demands.  Other times, rather than take a moment to self soothe, they prefer to give you their pain so that you can suffer with them — a “misery loves company”  kind of thing.  (A subtle form of bullying to be sure, but bullying just the same.)

3. I can control you”: The Manipulative Bully

  • Is your kid an excellent liar?

  • Does your kid have a history of stealing?

  • Does he know how to exploit your fears?

  • Does his mood plummet when you deny her wishes?

  • Are you blackmailed with threats of self-harm?

If you suffer fears and insecurities about your parenting, it won’t take long for a manipulative bullying child to hone in on them, particularly if you are an anxious or guilty parent. Phony illness or injuries, elaborate plots, extortion, blackmail—these are the tools that the manipulative bully uses to extort his wants and needs from his parents by preying on their anxieties and generating self-doubt.

Parents surrender their leadership role to their kids due to a complex mix of internal conflicts, personal fears and faulty coping mechanisms such as rationalization (justifying your kid’s behavior), blame (holding others accountable) and denial (ignoring warning signs & not getting help).

About the Packager

Skylight Press, headed by Lynn Sonberg and Meg Schneider, has placed dozens of parenting, popular psychology and health books with major publishers and has special expertise in developing  and managing collaborations.  Past titles include the best-selling The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz (Perigee), which has sold over half a million copies, You and Your Only Child by Dr. Patricia Nachman with Andrea Thompson (HarperCollins), The Inflammation Free Diet Plan by Monica Reinagel (McGraw-Hill) Out of the Fog: by Kevin R. Murphy, Ph.D. on adult ADHD  (Hyperion), and the forthcoming You and Your Anxious Child by Anne Marie Albano, Ph.D (A Lynn Sonberg Book published by Avery/Penguin).