By Sean Grover, LCSW-Author of When Kids Call the Shots: How to Seize Control from Your Darling Bully — and Enjoy Being a Parent Again
You walk through the door of your home after a long day and you’re bone-tired. You yearn for a moment of peace. So you sneak off to your bedroom and close the door. “Just a few minutes”, you think, “That’s all I need.”
As you lie down on the bed and doze off, your teenager daughter stomps into the room and demands to go to a party — on a school night. You respond with a hazy “no” and she starts to whine . . . then pester . . . then nag. You close your eyes and count to ten.
Now she unleashes her wrath.
“You never let me do anything! I hate you! You’re an idiot!”
Freeze-frame! This typical teen testing moment has just turned into a bullying moment. You’re being verbally assaulted and degraded by your own child. What will you do?
Three Common Tactics That Backfire
Typically, parents choose one of three responses:
Not every battle is worth fighting; surrendering and giving your kid what she wants is okay — sometimes. But when testing turns into bullying — never cave to your child’s demands; it rewards abusive behavior and delivers the wrong lesson: bullying works.
Losing your cool and enforcing harsh punishments are forms of counter-bullying that will generate a culture of bullying in your family. Children who are constantly being punished are more likely to grow defiant and oppositional, and turn your household into a 24 hour war-zone.
Negotiation is a popular choice in modern parenting. But when testing turns to bullying, negotiation is off the table. Negotiating with a bully sets the stage for ongoing conflicts. Like surrendering, it rewards abuse. The next time your kid is frustrated by your restrictions, he will return to bullying because bullying leads to negotiation, and negotiation leans to getting what he wants.
Immediate Steps You Can Take
When face with a bullying child, consider these three steps:
1. De-escalate the Conflict
Don’t’ react impulsively and escalate the conflict. When challenged, it’s vital to maintain your composure and leadership. Don’t become reactive or fall back on angry knee-jerk responses.
If the conflict escalates, hit the pause button; take a time out and give everyone a chance to cool off. When kids are in a state of intense frustration, you can’t reason with them. In fact, tying to reason with them will only make matters worse.
Take a break to gather your thoughts and regain your equilibrium. If you can, leave the room or get some fresh air. Before you can make peace your kid, you’ll need to cultivate some peace in yourself. Then, once things have quieted down, you can mindfully consider what actions to take.
2. Validate Feelings
Validating your kid’s feelings will help to reduce tension and neutralize conflicts. Kids respond positively when their feelings are acknowledged. Seize the moment to model how to communicate effectively when irritated, and refrain from foul language or verbal assaults.
“I understand that you’re frustrated. I am, too.”
Be sure to include yourself in the struggle to manage difficult feelings and your kid will feel less alone.
3. Praise Progress
When your kid calms down, commend and praise her efforts.
“I appreciate how you are talking to me right now.”
“I know this was hard for you. I’m proud of the way you expressed yourself.”
Reinforcing your kid’s strengths will boost her confidence and make mature communication more rewarding — and effective — than bullying. Remember, when it comes to defusing bullying and establishing mutual respect in your household, self-mastery is your greatest parenting tool.
© 2015 Sean Grover, author of When Kids Call the Shots: How to Seize Control from Your Darling Bully — and Enjoy Being a Parent Again
Author BioSean Grover, LCSW, author of When Kids Call the Shots, is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience working with adults and children. An inspiring speaker and designer of award winning youth programs, he’s quoted in Newsweek, US News & World Report, NPR, and elsewhere about parent-child relationships, and has also been a guest on The Today Show.