Are you bullying your children?

By Abby Bordner

We’ve been doing bullying prevention programs in schools and I was surprised to see how many parenting tactics and traditional discipline techniques actually look like bullying.

Here’s the official definition of bullying:

  • Using perceived or actual power over another person to intimidate or command them to do what you want them to do
  • Coercion and manipulation to gain control over another person
  • Threats, capitalizing on another’s weakness to create fear and dependency
  • Physically / emotionally abusive language to create a desired outcome
  • Using one’s superior size, power and/or influence to make someone else do what you want them to do.

Are you bullying your children?Hmmm… do you see where I’m going here? It begs the question, are some of our school yard bullies learning this behavior from so called “discipline” at home? Many parents resort to simply using their power to make their kids do what they want them to do.

Here’s the problem. When we exert force, coercion and intimidation to get the results we want as parents, our children are losing respect for us little by little. And, as soon as they don’t “have to” listen to us, they won’t. And guess what, our size and power over our kids wanes as they get older so our ability to intimidate becomes less and less. For example, my almost 15 year old son is taller and stronger than I am now so if I was relying on physically overpowering him to control his behavior… well, you see what I mean, right?

Is there a way to discipline our children that builds trust and respect AND still allows us to guide our children in the direction that is most important to us? Discipline is the act of guiding and teaching our children about our values and goals for them. Discipline is usually needed in the following areas:

  • How we treat ourselves and others
  • How we treat our own and other people’s property
  • Taking  responsibility (in relationships, school, church and/or family)
  • Participating in the family chores
  • Respecting parents and other authority figures

I want to give you an exercise to do. Be honest. It will help you define your parenting goals and give you some ideas about the best way to achieve your goals.  It may help to look at the list above to get some ideas of the areas in which parents are teaching values.

  • What are your goals as parents?
  • What are the values and expectations you want your children to learn?
  • Are you behaving in ways that demonstrate for your children how these values look in action?

Once you’ve answered these questions, the next step is to talk with your kids about it. Not when they’re in trouble. Not when you’re angry. Teach them about your values and see what they have to say. Chances are they will agree.

And, the next time your child’s actions aren’t consistent with your values, try this:

  1. Calm yourself from being so angry that you’ll resort to bullying. (deep breath, count to 10, wait until the morning…)
  2. State specifically the behavior that is a problem. “You hit your friend.” “You ruined your brother’s model airplane.” Or “You came home late last night and didn’t call.”
  3. State your values that have been disrespected. “Please treat your friends kindly.” “Please respect the property of others.” Or “Please call me if you’re ever going to be late.”
  4. Ask your child what they can do to make amends. See if they can find a way to apologize, find a solution, make a plan for next time and/or fix what has been damaged.

I’m a parent so I know each situation will require different responses. I’m just suggesting you start here. Start with these four steps and then make your decisions about punishments, consequences and loss of privileges (if you feel it’s necessary). If you start here you’re modeling self-control, clear communication, and making right after we’ve done wrong. This builds trust and respect and sets the expectation that your child can do better.

What situations are hardest for you to manage as a parent?

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Leave A Reply (13 comments so far)

  1. Leah Davies
    3 years ago

    This is another fantastic article. Your straight forward writing is so effective!

    • Abby
      3 years ago

      I appreciate your comment, Leah! Thanks for your support.

  2. Cherrye Vasquez
    3 years ago

    Thanks Abby.

    Your article arrived at a great time as I balance my relationship with a new teenager.

    I am also an advocate against bullying, but parents should take heed to their own actions when interacting with their children, especially at this tender age of change and maturation.

    Take care – Cherrye

    • Abby
      3 years ago

      Thanks, Cherrye. Yes, my son is a teenager now and I see the value of working with him to build our relationship and be a good problem solver. This age requires good critical thinking and decision making! Good luck with your teenager.

  3. Jerry Bures
    3 years ago

    Fantastic article!

    Kids are largely a product of their environment. So, when parents model “bullying” techniques, a child will likely pick up those habits and tend to “react” that same way when raising their children.

    Truth be told, my wife and I are guilty of this at times, as we both learned from watching some very incompetent parenting techniques. Plus, I can imagine this “parental bullying” is the technique of choice for raising high-energy kids like ours.

    Plus, I can imagine a very high percentage of parents are guilty of “bullying” their kids. So sad. Takes a lot of the joy out of relationships.

    However, we’ve learned a valuable skill to offset these incompetencies…to sincerely apologize when we’ve realized our mistakes. It’s allowed us to maintain a fairly tight bond with our kids despite our faults.

    So, instead of parents lamenting these realities, they can work hard at building their skills, be grateful that they are becoming more “evolved” than past generations, and remain hopeful that their kids’ will enjoy even greater improvement over their efforts.

    • Abby
      3 years ago

      Thanks for your comment, Jerry. I’m so glad you made the point of how beneficial a good apology is. You’re right, we’re not perfect as parents and apologizing to our kids models even better skills of admitting mistakes and making amends. And I agree, constant struggle with our kids takes the joy out of the relationships. I also like your point that hopefully, we’re evolving as parents and learning new skills to get it better than past generations have. Thanks again!

  4. Patrick McMillan
    3 years ago

    A brilliant article Abby!!

    And I’m so happy you wrote it! And I’m certain it hits home for so many! Especially those of us who grew up with parents who truly believed “children should be seen and not heard” or “spare the rod, spoil the child” and of course the old “don’t speak until you’re spoken too.”

    Your article brought up several “what if?” thoughts for me and the first was…what if my parents had read and believed this when I was a child? I wondered what path my life would have taken had my father NOT been the worst of bullies? I know I would not have lived most of my adult life filled with the fear of one day becoming a father and repeating the cycle of physical and emotional abuse with my own children.

    The bullying I experienced behind the walls of my family home at the hands of my father was far worse than I had experienced outside the home, and ultimately led to my leaving home at a ridiculously young age. Those experiences altered my view of not only myself but the whole idea of marriage and parenting. As a young adult I became aware of my fathers experience with his father, which sounded eerily similar to how he had bullied me, which only solidified in my mind how likely it would be that I would repeat the cycle. I vowed to never get married to avoid the possibility of fathering children. I truly believed I was a just a victim of a pattern that was deeply subconscious controlled.

    But that thought created a deep pain inside because I knew I was not that kind of person. I was a caring and compassionate child and my heart has always ached for children who are abused or bullied at home.

    I’ve been able to face my fears to overcome them all of my life, but the fear of being a dad had a very tight grip, until I chose to finally face it head on! I knew that if I was to hold on to feelings of anger and resentment toward my father I would never be free to be the dad I so wanted to be one day. To finally be able to forgive my father was a choice, albeit a very tough choice, but a choice that changed my life forever, and it wasn’t until I saw that a pattern existed that I was able to break it.

    Not only did facing my fear and finding forgiveness allow me to joyfully become a father of two boys, but I also discovered my passion and purpose. I spent over seven years as a stay at home dad and became a huge advocate for helping parents and their kids discover joy and happiness together.

    You have written a very powerful article and I know so many parents who suffer inside from their own childhood experiences with bullying at the hands of their own parents, and many of whom need help breaking the cycle.

    I know this will help many.

    Thanks so much!

    Patrick McMillan
    Author of An Exercise in Happiness

    • Abby
      3 years ago

      Hello Patrick! Thank you so much for your comment. You have put to words what so many parents, especially fathers, have felt in their lifetime but perhaps not completely understood. One primary motivation I find with the parents I teach is that many of them are trying to overcome their own childhoods and be a better parent than their parents were. It’s difficult! You may know what you DON’T want to do, but finding the right way takes learning, changing, growing and evolving. It’s not always easy but SO worth the effort. Congratulations that you overcame your fears and how lucky that your two sons get to have a Dad that is so committed to wellness, joy and connection. I think you’ve broken the cycle and started a new one for you boys. Well done!

  5. Merryl Woodard
    3 years ago

    Outstanding article Abby. And Patrick, I agree with Abby. Your sons are lucky to have a father like you.

  6. Natalie Nel
    3 years ago

    This hits home in so many ways. The solutions you offer are perfect – if you are the parent reading the article and it resonates with you, but what if the parent is in denial and refuses to see this as bullying, but as parental discipline. How does a spouse/partner tell the other parent that they are a bully without all the consequences?

    • Abby
      3 years ago

      Hi Natalie, This is a common problem I find when working with parents. Many marriages suffer because of different parenting styles. And it’s close to impossible to change someone who doesn’t want to change. But if both parents are willing to work with me to improve their family life, I have an exercise to identify their long term goals for their children. I work on finding the common ground between the two parents and begin to build some trust between them. We do “parenting vows” to commit to those goals and then build skills to support them. I find that once I break it down, the evidence is so convincing that most parents are willing to try some new things.

  7. Ranota
    3 years ago

    Wow! I’ve used all of these bullying techniques at least once while raising my herd! Parenthood can be a challenge at times and reading this article allowed me to see what was happening! Thank you, Abby!

    • Abby Bordner
      3 years ago

      I’m glad this gave you some insight, Ranota! Keep on trying. Our kids are very forgiving 😉