Mark, eight years old, was in the clinic of a pediatrician, where he had been waiting with his mother and many other parents for their turn. When I came to him, I saw him shouting at his mother (in Filipino): “You’re ugly, I hate you! I’m going to kick you!” And he actually kicked his mother. This left the poor mother helpless and extremely embarrassed.
– Excerpt, “The Filipino Children Under Stress” (Carandang, 1987)
When the topic of abuse within a family is brought up, most of the time, the conversation automatically focuses on the children as the victims and then the subsequent role of the abuser/s falls on the parents. Indeed, most reports on violence that happens at home show a pattern where physical size and strength play a significant role in the bully’s dominion over the other household members. Hence, being the older, bigger and supposedly more knowledgeable ones; it is understandable how parents, be it intentional or not, are easily the ones who are ‘capable’ of being their family’s bullies.
Based on statistics, most of the children who’ve been abused have experienced it while they are at home (60.4% for physical abuse, 38.1% for psychological abuse, and 13.7% for sexual abuse) 1. Add neglect2 and the inability of the parents to provide for their families and the figures shall further be skewed towards the role of parents as potential bullies. However, physical strength and size as well as age aren’t the only key characteristics of the bullies within a family. Sometimes, the bullies aren’t easily identified for they do not meet the stereotypical traits of what a bully is. They aren’t the ‘classic’ bullies for they are not big and they may not even be physically developed yet. Sometimes, although it’s hard to accept it…
…the bullies in our families can be our children.
When the child is the family’s bully, his/her victims aren’t just his/her younger siblings (sibling-sibling bullying). Often, the child can and will also bully his/her yaya (nanny), grandparents, and yes, although unexpectedly, even his/her parents. But how do we determine when our children are already our bullies?
In the excerpt presented above that was taken from Doc Honey’s Catholic Mass Media Award-winning book 4, it was the mother who was the victim and it’s her child who was the perpetrator, ‘the child tyrant’.
For bullies, although size can be an advantage, it is their capacity to obtain ‘power over’ another person and use it for their own benefit, which more often than not causes harm to the latter, that is much more important. Just like extrafamilial bullying, the child tyrant’s ‘power over’ his/her family may not be easily recognized on the onset until it has already grown out of proportion and is already causing significant distress on the victims. However, unlike ‘stranger bullies’, ‘the child tyrant’ just like ‘parent-child bully’, can cause greater damage when left unresolved. For in the former, when a child is bullied at school, should his/her family members be mindful and supportive, the effects of the extrafamilial bullying can be buffered by the positive home environment; whereas in the latter, the existence of the child tyrant threatens the very foundation of their family. An imbalance in the distribution of power occurs. Parents might question their worth not just as a provider but also as a person, which can then affect how they deal with the other members of the family as well as to other people. For their part, the child tyrant’s behavior when left unresolved, would be carried on and would even escalate through their adult years.
But when are they just having uncontrollable temper outbursts, just acting out, or are already deliberately causing harm through abuse of power? In an article published by Psychology Today3, three prevalent bullying styles of children towards their parents were identified, namely; manipulative, anxious, and defiant.
But aside from the bullying styles, it is also important to determine the scope of the child tyrant’s power over his/her family 4.
Important questions that must also be explored include6:
- Does the child tyrant (power holder) have high or low degree of anxiety?
- Does the victim/s (symptom carrier) have the power to resist the child tyrant?
- What is the degree of anxiety of the victims?
- What is the child tyrant’s level in terms of capacity to change?
- What are the victims’ levels in terms of capacity to change?
Knowing and being able to answer these questions do not necessarily guarantee that the child tyrant’s behavior will immediately be resolved. However, it can serve as an invaluable initiating step. After all, we cannot truly focus on the solutions when we haven’t fully confronted the problem yet and without first identifying the source/s of power imbalance and familial distress. Mindful parenting do not just mean that we are being aware of our actions. Rather, we should also be open to the behavior of our children and other family members as well as how these behaviors affect and influence us.
For in a family, the ‘I’ can only truly function with the help of the ‘we’ and the ‘us’.
For more learnings on Mindful Parenting and Bullying, join us on April 7, 2018 (Saturday) at Miriam College, Henry Sy Sr. Innovation Center for our 4th Parenting Academy: Mindful Parenting in the Age of Bullying.
1 Council for the Welfare of Children & UNICEF. (2016). Executive Summary. National Baseline Study on Violence against Children: Philippines.
2 Article 1 of the United Nations Concention on the Rights of a Child (UN CRC) and Section 3 of RA 7610. Types and Settings of Child Maltreatment.
3 Grover, S. (2016). The 3 Types of Children Who Bully Their Parents… and the good news and bad news about dealing with each. Psychology Today. When Kids Call the Shots. Online Source:https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/when-kids-call-the-shots/201604/the-3-types-children-who-bully-their-parents
4, 5, 6 Carandang, M.L. (1987). The Filipino Children Under Stress: Family Dynamics and Therapy