Nobody ever thinks of themselves as aggressive parents, but some of the ways in which we react to our kids, consciously or unconsciously, may be described as aggressive parenting.
Research has found that hostile parenting is associated with very many negative outcomes. Children raised in such families are more violent and aggressive, or they think that violence is a normal way to respond.
They are also more likely to suffer from psychological issues such as stress, anxiety and depression, they may find it harder to deal with difficult emotions such as anger, they may have poorer educational outcomes, and they may also struggle more than other kids when it comes to making friends.
But what does aggressive parenting really mean? And how can one reduce or eliminate harsh parenting styles? In this article, we will look at some of the common acts of aggression by parents and go over simple strategies that can help promote less hostile parenting styles.
What does aggressive parenting mean?
Physical punishment and/or violence is the most known form of harsh parenting. It involves any form of physical abuse – even when that abuse is “mild”. There is now sufficient proof, that physical violence is detrimental to children’s wellbeing.
But physical punishment is not the most widespread form of harsh parenting. Psychological aggression is far more common and can be just as destructive as physical aggression.
In some ways, psychological aggression is far worse than physical aggression because its damage is invisible and therefore it is easier for the parents who use it to view it as “harmless” or “not too bad”, and to use it repeatedly.
In reality, psychological aggression by parents is a quite common phenomenon. In a study undertaken among 991 American parents, a group of researchers found that:
- By age 2, 90% of parents had used at least one form of psychological aggression in the past 12 months.
- By age 5, 98% of parents reported using some form of psychological aggression.
- Between the ages of 6 and 17, the psychological aggression rate was in the 90% range.
That said, severe psychological aggression was less common and ranged from between 10%-20% for toddlers to about 50% for teenagers.
Psychological aggression has been linked to poorer self-esteem, poorer cognitive development, greater anxiety, stress and depression, just to name a few.
There are different forms of psychological aggression, and they all have an impact on your child’s wellbeing and on their outcomes, well past the childhood years.
The most common forms are:
- Constantly yelling and shouting
- Name calling
- Emotional manipulation – for example using guilt to make your child do what you want, or making them feel that they are responsible for the choices that you make (“after everything I’ve given up for you…”)
- Withholding love and affection – for example through strategies such as the silent treatment
- Gaslighting – consistently denying your child’s experiences or feelings
- Playing favorites – for example by treating your kids differently (“why can’t you be more like”, “she’ll go further than you ever will”
- Over-controlling – for example, making all the decisions for your kids and being ever-present.
- Using your children’s fears to get what you want: “why do you want to go to that party anyway? You know you have no friends/you’ll regret it/you can’t handle it”
The good news is that there are simple strategies that can help you avoid punitive parenting.
How to avoid punitive parenting at home
1) Be honest about your parenting style
So many issues affect how we parent: our past memories of our childhood, our parents’ parenting styles, our social and cultural norms, our personalities, our children’s personalities, our states of mind, and so on.
You may also resort to punitive parenting if you yourself were raised by aggressive parents, or if the aggressive parenting model is the only one you know.
The situations in which we find ourselves also affect our reactions. You are more likely to yell when you’re tired or stressed, or when you feel that yelling is a “normal” reaction to your child’s behavior.
But if yelling is the only way to get your child to listen to you, this may be a sign that you need to change the learned patterns of communication in your parent/child relationship. Remember that tools exist to help you learn to communicate more positively (and effectively) with your child.
2) Put yourself on your priority list
We are all the worst version of ourselves when we are tired, overwhelmed and feeling resentful. That is why it is important to put aside some time for yourself EVERY SINGLE DAY.
You could spend that time taking a coffee or tea, reading, taking a walk, listening to music, taking a bath, and so on. Even 10 minutes a day just for you will totally change how you react to your child.
3) Try positive reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is one of the easiest and most effective discipline strategies because it encourages you to change how you view your child’s behavior and to focus only on positive behavior.
This article has everything you need to know to start using the positive reinforcement strategy from today.
4) Work on your emotional regulation skills
Harsh parenting is often a sign that you have unresolved issues. You may be feeling overwhelmed, unappreciated, disrespected, or stressed, and all these feelings may help explain why you react in the manner that you do.
That said, punitive parenting is never appropriate. Worse, it can harm your child and yourself and cause irreparable damage to your parent/child relationship. If you’re struggling with managing your emotions, talk to a specialist to help you work through your own anger and frustration.
Last thoughts on punitive parenting
While there is no “one-size-fits-all approach” when it comes to parenting, any parenting style characterized by harsh discipline and by physical and psychological aggression can harm your child for life.
That said, many parents who use harmful parenting strategies do so because those are the strategies that they know best, or because they have become accustomed to responding to their children in a certain way.
The first step to shift away from an aggressive parenting style is therefore to be honest about your parenting style and to get informed about the different positive discipline strategies that you can use to manage your child’s behavior.
This free discipline training course provides a few basic guidelines to help you reflect on your parenting strategy.
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