When we have kids, we never think we will be a hostile or aggressive parent, and we pray our partners aren’t either. However, sometimes it takes a while for hostility and aggression to be seen in parenting styles–and it can be hard to escape.
We all hear and see the stories on the news or on social media of tragic incidents of children dealing with hostile parenting. It always breaks our hearts and we vow to never become that, and many of us don’t. However, there are the few that do become hostile and aggressive towards their children and sometimes it can be hard to spot.
Keep reading to learn the signs of this poor parenting and how you can help children cope, as well as learn the effects they may be suffering.
What is Hostile Aggressive Parenting?
These are words that should never be in the same sentence and, unfortunately for a lot of children across the world, it is. But what exactly is hostile aggressive parenting? It might seem like a self-explanatory statement, but it goes deeper than just ‘hostility’ and ‘aggressiveness.’ These parents or guardians do not take the blame but will put it on anyone else they can and will often use the child as a ‘weapon’ to get their way.
Note: This form of parenting is not limited to biological parents, but anyone who is helping to raise the child whether it be grandparents, aunts or uncles, siblings or legal guardians.
By definition, ‘hostile’ is defined as “relating to an enemy,” “marked by malevolence” and “having an intimidating, antagonistic or offensive nature.” This would mean the parent that is showing these behaviors would be viewed as an enemy to his or her children. The parent would act intimidating and antagonize and offend the children, without regard to how they feel.
‘Aggressive,’ by definition, is “marked by obtrusive energy and self-assertiveness” and “tending toward or exhibiting aggression.” Knowing this, we can conclude that the parents are also very assertive and ‘in your face.’ They show signs of violence, either vocal or physical. The parent puts fear into their children by attempting to dominate them in a forceful manner.
Together, these destructive behaviors create a nightmare for children to live in. It is a form of child abuse and should be taken very seriously if and when discovered. It is defined as a pattern of manipulative behavior, decision making and actions. This pattern often indirectly or directly causes:
- Difficulties within the relationship between the child and another person, usually the other parent or guardian;
- Unfair arrangements between the child and the other parent or guardian;
- Consistent conflict between the parents which in turn affects the well-being of the child
This form of ‘parenting’ is often caused or brought up because of a serious custody battle with the child. However, it can also be caused by the abusive parent having an untreated mental illness, or a combination of the two. Regardless, if you know of a situation like this, report it immediately and help get the children into a safe environment.
Signs of Hostile Aggressive Parenting
Some of the signs from parents or guardians are pretty small and easy to over look while others are more noticeable. Some we would assume is just the abuser being angry and saying things they don’t mean, like talking poorly about the other parent in front of the child.
Often times, you can tell the signs from both the child and the abuser, as the are connected. However, signs from the children are often the effects of living with and being exposed to the hostile aggressive parent. Here are more ways a hostile aggressive parent or guardian shows signs, from least to most harmful:
- Refusal to comply or act unreasonable with written arrangements involving the child and not cooperate with custodial agreements with holidays or vacations, including making it hard or impossible for the child to see the other parent on special occasions
- Will interfere with normal phone calls between the child and other guardian, including:
- Listening in or make the child put the call on speakerphone
- Refusing to answer the call or blocking the number
- Speaking for the child
- Hiding phones to prevent communication
- Taking the phone away from the child in the middle of a conversation
- Will undermine the other parent or guardian’s authority
- Will use the child’s feelings to their advantage by telling them things to hurt them such as telling them they will love them less if they choose the other parent
- Fail to allow the other parent to make important choices such as insurance, daycare, and school events
- Bribe the child to not want to see their other parent and to place blame and guilt on them
- Uses excessive discipline, either physical or verbal
- Create false accusations from the child about the other parent, such as physical or sexual abuse
- Do whatever they can to keep the other parent uninvolved
- Continue abuse even after it is brought to authorities attention
- Destroy evidence of the other parent attempting to contact the child, whether via email, text, call or postal mail
- Threaten to harm the child in any way, including murder, kidnapping or other physical harm
- Threaten to harm themself in any way
- Expose the child to alcohol or drugs
- Being sexually or physically abused by the parent the parent’s partner
Remember, these are only some of the signs, the most noticeable and harmful.
Effects of Hostile Aggressive Parenting
While hostile aggressive parenting does effect the non abusive parent by creating overwhelming amounts of stress, anxiety, fear, and depression, it mainly effects the child. Signs of hostile aggressive parenting show up as effects through the child and the effects can be very detrimental to the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing of the child.
- The child may suddenly be refusing to go to home of the abusive parent or even run away from that home to get somewhere he or she feels safe
- The child may begin to develop high anxiety and/or depression
- Behavioral issues may begin to occur in the home of either parent, at school or friends houses
- The child may begin to become overly quiet and withdrawn from everyday activities
- When questioned about the abusive parent, the child may display anger, fearful emotions and try to avoid it
- May let slip to outside people such as teachers, friends or coaches about the abusive behavior
- May ask for help from a trusted adult or friend to reach out to the other parent
- The child may show signs of fear of discipline when talking about the abusive parent
- When the hostile parent is around, the child’s demeanor and personality may change
- The child may begin to self harm or express that they want to hurt themselves
- The child may draw or write about feelings of sadness, fear and anger about being with the aggressive parent
- The child may begin to lack confidence and have a sudden drop in self esteem
- The child may exhibit signs of physical or sexual abuse
- If you see any of these symptoms and signs with any child, report it immediately.
Dealing with Hostile Aggressive Parenting
The best way to deal with hostile aggressive parenting if you are the other parent or another adult is to intervene in any way. Report any form of abuse you might see the child exhibiting and attempt to talk to the child–make sure the child feels safe with you first. Children who are exposed to this form of parenting are often very guarded and embarrassed by what is happening to them.
If you are a concerned teacher, pull the child aside during a quiet time and ask to speak to them. Start by asking them how their day is going and ease into the more serious questions. You don’t want the child to feel as if they are being interrogated–this will be intimidating and might remind them of being with the abusive parent and may cause them to shut down further or act out.
If the child mentions any form of abuse from verbal to physical, report it immediately and help get the child to safety. As a teacher, it is your job to report noticeable or mentioned abuse. Reach out to the child and let him or her know that you are there to help them with anything you can, even if all they want to do is talk.
If you are the other parent or family member, attempt to talk to the child when the hostile parent is not around–during your visitation would be a perfect time. Tell them if they don’t want to say anything, that it is okay, but you want to help them if there is anything going on. Let them know it’s okay to be afraid, angry and sad.
If the child still doesn’t want to talk, suggest drawing how he or she is feeling and/or what goes on at the abusers house. Give them paper and crayons or markers. Draw with them so they don’t feel as if you’re doing this to trick them or put fear into them. Be patient with the child and don’t rush them.
Sometimes the abuse is more obvious with noticeable injuries like bruises. If you notice any odd bruising or strange placement like on the arms or ankles, ask them where it came from. If they seem hesitant or tell you something that sounds rehearsed, look further into it. They could be lying from fear that has been instilled by threats from the abusive parent.
Try giving the child journal or a diary to write in. Tell them that every day, they can write whatever they want in it–it’s a private, special book for them to write their feelings in. They can take it to school, friends’ houses or anywhere they want. Give them a special and fun pen or set of pens too! Children love little things like that.
The journal could help document any forms of abuse or hostility as well as if the child is considering harming themselves or others. Talk to your child and ask them how they like writing in the journal and when they write in it.
Once abuse has been proven, help the child recover. This could take years depending on the age. Counselling is a great way to help the child let out their emotions in a safe place. Help them find activities they enjoy that could be a healthy outlet for their feelings such as sports, art classes, dance classes or cooking.
Make sure the child knows they are safe now and whatever you or another family member or friend can do to help them, they will. Be patient and supportive and always show love. Help find the child strong support systems.
If you are the abusive parent, go seek help immediately. Just because you were abusive does not mean you will always fail as a parent. You might have an underlying mental illness that needs addressed and once done so, you can go about working on helping gain forgiveness and trust from the child. This is something that will take time, so be patient and stay calm and centered.
What is Malicious Mother Syndrome? This is a syndrome where, in the case of divorce, one parent intentionally becomes vengeful to the other parent, most often the mother, thus the name “malicious mother,” however fathers can suffer from it too. Often times, one parent will bad mouth the other to the child, telling the child lies about how ‘awful’ the other parent is and that he or she doesn’t love them. Keep an eye on this if you suspect anything, as it can turn to hostile aggressive parenting.
What is Parental Alienation and Some of the Signs? Parental Alienation is when one parent refuses to let the child see or contact the other and may begin to talk poorly and tells lies about the other parent to the child. Signs of this include manipulating the child’s mind to think differently about the other parent, telling the child to tell the other parent not to do certain things like attend school functions and having a sense of entitlement to anything involving the child. If you suspect this, alert your lawyer.