Parent Abuse
Who’s to Blame?

It happens all the time. Parents arrive in my office in a state of shock, wondering how their sweet, adorable child morphed into a domestic tyrant.

Which raises an important question: Is it normal for kids to abuse their parents?

Lets look at some basic child psychology and see how developmental phases come with built-in power struggles that put children and their parents on a collision course.

Little Monster Psych. 101

In each developmental phrase, children wrestle with new skills and abilities, such as learning to walk, use language, or write. If a phase goes well, after a period of intense struggle and sustained effort, a breakthrough occurs; a personal victory that feels so good that it triggers a leap in maturity.

Suddenly, in an amazingly short period of time, kids discard their old way of doing things and reject help. For example:

  • The baby who has just fed herself with a spoon no longer wants to be fed.
  • The wobbly child who just learned to walk no longer wants to hold your hand.
  • The teenager who has just gotten his driver’s license doesn’t want his parents in the car.

Each time kids master new skills, they experience a rush of joy and confidence. Here’s when things start to get complicated.

The Drive for Independence Promotes Conflict

Mastery prompts a wish for greater independence. The problem is children don’t know their limits. Whether that like it or not, they need adult supervision.

Now the battle begins. All parents eventually have to stand In the way of their kid’s will. It’s impossible to be a good parent without making unpopular decisions.

How Frustration Gives Way to Abuse

Children don’t like hearing the word no. The moment their parents prevent them from getting what they want, they grow irritated.

Why are my parents ruining my fun?

Can’t they see I’m enjoying myself?

Why are they getting in my way?

It’s human nature to rebel against restrictions. Kids don’t understand that their parents are protecting them. Parental restraint feels like oppression – and who likes that?  That’s why, eventually, all healthy children must enter into battle with their parents.

This fight is natural — and necessary. It’s how children can begin to define themselves. If kids are too accommodating or too compliant with their parents, they will lack confidence and self-definition later in life.

Testing Moments

After parents set restrictions, kids test how far they can push back without consequences.

If I scream for it, will dad give in?

If I cry, will I get my way?

If I make a scene, will mom surrender?

When Testing Turns to Abusing

From preschool to high school, test periods are the prime clashing points in all parent–child relationships. They are trying times, when kids flex their young muscles and test their parents’ tenacity.

Okay, let’s pause here and take a moment to remember that parents are human. They have good days and bad days. On good days, they are good-humored and flexible, and they have boundless patience—or at least enough patience. On bad days, they are grumpy; they lose their temper and sometimes act like children themselves.

During test periods:

1.     Stand Your Ground: Once you limit is set, don’t back down or re-negotiate. Giving in teaches children that abuse works.

2.     Abuse is Never Acceptable: Make it clear that name-calling, cursing, psychical abuse is never tolerated. Mutual respect is the standard. Be sure to model the behavior you want from your child and don’t sink to his or her level.

3.     Don’t Threaten or Bully Back: If you’re kid is bullying, don’t respond with counter threats or bullying. Remember, you’re the parent. Maintain your authority and keep your cool.

4.     Take a Time Out: When possible, step away and give yourself and your kid time to calm down. Self-reflection fosters greater maturity. Mindfulness de-escalates conflicts.

5.     Stay United with Your Spouse: Kids always practice “divide and conquer” with their parents. Don’t be pulled into debates about decisions. Stand strong together in parentingdecisions, and work out disagreements in private.

Parents Set Behavioral Standards

While it’s natural for kids to rebel against their parents, when rebelling turns into abusing, it’s vital for parents take a stand. Structure, limits and boundaries are not organic– they must be taught to children. Remember, parent abuse only thrives when authority is weak.