How did it happen? Your child went from occasionally talking back to you to bullying you. When did you become terrified of interacting with your own child, and what can you do now?
In When Kids Call the Shots, Sean Grover doesn’t try to solve all of the ways that bullying crops up in our culture. But he does a fine job of addressing an important dynamic in today’s families — that of children bullying their own parents. Grover provides some good ideas to help readers change the dynamic, and challenges parents to look at themselves to see how they might be contributing to the problem.
Grover is a psychotherapist who works closely with children and adults in New York, especially those in the parent-child relationship. His detailed examples of past cases are useful, as is his own experience as a father. But rather than encourage troubled parents to run straight to therapy, Grover suggests that there are things a parent can do now that might help. Though counseling is an option, working on the issue at home can save both time and money — something most parents can heartily appreciate.
As children develop maturity, self-reliance, and confidence, Grover explains, they test the limits of their boundaries. Naturally, this creates conflict with parents, teachers, and other authority figures. If this boundary-testing is at what parents consider reasonable levels, problems are minimal. But when a child pushes in ways that parents find unacceptable, that’s when the real issues begin. And though it is sometimes both parents who feel the child’s wrath, Grover writes, often it is just one.
The reasons for a parent to push back may vary. There are healthy reasons, such as safety, financial cost, and discomfort or unfairness for siblings. Then, there are other factors: Parents who have issues lurking from their own upbringing may create unhealthy reasons for stifling their child’s development.
And so, Grover writes, we as parents may find many helpful clues to behavioral issues if we examine our own history as children and how our parents treated us. He tells us that the three types of parents most likely to be bullied by their own kids are those who were bullied by their parents, those who had absent or neglectful parents, and those who had narcissistic parents.
If you ever think, “It was good enough for me; it should be good enough for him,” or, “My parents would have never let me get away with that,” those are thoughts to look at more closely. They may be a sign that your own childhood is manifesting itself in your parenting style and how you react.
Grover offers tools to regain a balance of power so that the parent takes back the upper hand needed for effective parenting while still giving their child appropriate autonomy and status in the family. He also suggests having an “anti-bullying support team” comprised of one’s spouse, friends, relatives, teachers, and others. It may be hard to admit to your peers that you’re having trouble with your own kid, but isolating yourself only makes fighting bullying more difficult, Grover writes. Having support can help.
It also helps that Grover readily admits mistakes he made in his own parenting, which lets us relate to his teachings — and makes him more believable, too.
Plus, he writes, children often know when they’re being bullies, and may even want their parents to take away their ability to get away with it. In the end, we must keep in mind, kids want a happy family life, just as their parents do.
When Kids Call the Shots: How to Seize Control from Your Darling Bully — and Enjoy Being a Parent Again
AMACOM, June 2015
Paperback, 224 pages