Parents who don’t have effective parenting skills will often use aggression as a substitute. This is especially common with parents who don’t have good relationships or effective coping skills and use aggression to compensate for a whole range of things. Ultimately, it can lead to aggression with their kids.
When you use aggression as a parenting style, it often solves your short-term problem of controlling children. Aggressive parents can get the compliance they are looking for, at least initially. But it comes at a cost.
Aggression leads to serious problems for children and how they grow up to deal with the adult world. The aggressive parenting style too often leads kids in one of two directions in life. First, they can be a victim because that’s the role they’ve been assigned in their family. Or, second, they can be aggressive and abusive because that’s what was modeled for them by their parent.
Neither role increases the kid’s chance of developing his potential and creating a successful life.
I view the aggressive parenting style as primitive, short-sighted, and ineffective. It’s not good at developing strong, independent, and compassionate kids.
The fact is, you can’t punish your child into good behavior. Over-the-top punishments or ineffective rules just end up in a power struggle. The key is not to punish, but to give kids consequences that work. The right consequences actually motivate your child to good behavior. They put you back in control and teach your child how to problem-solve, giving your child the skills needed to be a successful adult.
I think it’s easy for parents today to be afraid that they won’t be able to control their children. The media, the online world, and their kids’ peers are just too great an influence. Many parents fall into the trap of using aggression and power to try to offset the power of these outside influences. Unfortunately, their aggression is a shortcut that doesn’t work in the long term.
Parents need to be able to teach their children how to deal with these powerful influences on their own. One of the problems with aggressive parenting and harsh punishments is that when the child leaves the home, they don’t know how to behave on their own. And then they get into the kind of trouble that the parents were afraid of in the first place.
I’ve built my reputation advocating for an authoritative parenting style. Authoritative parenting means setting limits and holding kids accountable for their behavior. At the same time, though, it encourages coaching and forgiveness when kids inevitably mess up.
Authoritative parenting is effective because it teaches kids to be independent and self-reliant and sends the message to the kid that you believe in them by having high expectations for their behavior.
With the authoritative parenting style, you encourage your child to be creative and independent, just within the limits you set. In other words, you’re not controlling your child, you’re just creating healthy boundaries within which they can grow and thrive. And you firmly but gently correct your child when they go outside the boundaries.
In contrast, bullying parents are what I would call authoritarian (as opposed to authoritative). Living in one of these households is like living in a dictatorship.
These parents use a restrictive and punishment-heavy parenting style that demands compliance with an iron-fist or with verbal intimidation. Compliance is achieved through fear of retribution, not through thoughtful consequences that allow the child to learn from their mistakes.
It’s a cop-out to say people inevitably parent the way they were parented. Any parent can improve their skills. I do think people can change. I’ve seen people change and transform themselves and their kids by learning effective parenting techniques.
My experience has been that when aggressive or senselessly rigid parents learn more effective parenting skills, they’re in a better position to teach their children effective ways to manage the world around them.
I realize that many parents don’t intend to parent aggressively. Some just lose their cool and react to the situation by yelling or screaming. But yelling and screaming don’t work. If it did, I’d be out of business. You’d just be able to yell at your child and he’d change. Or you’d bring your child to my office, I’d shout at him and call him names for 45 minutes, and then he’d go home and be nice for a week.
Oftentimes, parents react to their kids without thinking because they believe they need to get their kids under control immediately. It’s better to take a moment to think, “Wait, let me first get myself under control before I respond to my child.” If you don’t and you react emotionally to your child and lose control, you’re allowing the behavior of your child to determine how you behave rather than the other way around.
If this is you, know that you can learn skills that will allow you to stay in control with your kids.
One final note. Kids watch their parents all the time, and we are role models whether we’re conscious of it or not. To behave boorishly, antisocially or abusively in front of children does more harm than most parents realize. Talk is cheap. We have to model appropriate behavior if we are to expect it of our children.
James Lehman, who dedicated his life to behaviorally troubled youth, created The Total Transformation®, The Complete Guide to Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™, from a place of professional and personal experience. Having had severe behavioral problems himself as a child, he was inspired to focus on behavioral management professionally. Together with his wife, Janet Lehman, he developed an approach to managing children and teens that challenges them to solve their own problems without hiding behind disrespectful, obnoxious or abusive behavior. Empowering Parents now brings this insightful and impactful program directly to homes around the globe.