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How Aggressive Parenting Raises Bullies or Bullying Victims

Aggressive parenting involves the use of threats or punishment to control or pressure children through psychological aggression (verbal threats, humiliation) and physical aggression (spanking, hitting). This parenting style often leads to children becoming bullies or victims of bullying, exhibiting antisocial behavior, and suffering from mental health disorders.

Cross-generational transmission of aggressive behaviors and an authoritarian parenting style tend to be the cause. Recovery strategies for children of aggressive parents include acknowledging the abuse, maintaining distance from abusive parents, building a supportive network, and seeking professional help.

Adopting an authoritative parenting style, enrolling in parenting programs, and seeking therapy to address unresolved issues can prevent aggressive parenting. These strategies emphasize the importance of nurturing and supportive practices to foster healthy child development.

aggressive father yells and points finger at scared boy

What is aggressive parenting

Aggressive parenting involves using threats or punishment to control or pressure a child to obey. Parental aggression toward children can be psychological or physical. It is toxic parenting.

Psychological aggression

Psychologically aggressive parents verbally threaten their children to obey them. They shout, yell, and scream. Children are frequently called names, insulted, humiliated, sworn at, and cursed.

Psychological control, such as guilt induction, love withdrawal, personal attacks, and verbal communication restrictions, is another form of parenting aggression. These negative parenting tactics are used to pressure and manipulate children’s behavior and thoughts​1​.

While these aggressive parents may not spank their children directly, they often threaten to. In some cases, they also threaten to send their children to scary places like reform schools or throw them out the house.

Physical aggression

Physically aggressive parents punish or intimidate their children with physical force. In order to instill pain and fear, they may spank, hit, slap, pinch, or shake their children. 

The consequences of this type of parenting are often detrimental to the child. One of the negative impacts of this aggressive parenting style is that it promotes child aggression and harms the wellbeing of children. These kids are more likely to become bullies or are bullied.

Aggressive parenting style and bullying

Harsh parenting adversely affects children of all ages, but very young children are particularly vulnerable, since they have little opportunity to compare their experience with that of others, and they are more susceptible to learning inappropriate behaviors.

Children who are physically or psychologically victimized at home have increased likelihood of becoming a bully, a victim of bullying, or both​2​.

Studies have consistently shown an association between coercive parenting and antisocial and aggressive behavior in children and adolescents​3​. Discipline, and specifically punitive discipline, is an important factor related to bullying.

Becoming a bully

Hostile-aggressive parenting, notably physical discipline, is associated with aggression in children and adolescents​4​.

Those who use aggressive parenting practices teach their children that punitive and hostile behavior is effective in getting what they want. Kids may believe that violence is a legitimate way to interact and exert control over others, which can lead them to emulate such behavior​5​.

Peer aggression is also linked with the psychological control of parents. In addition to bullying, psychological control is also associated with externalizing symptoms, such as delinquency, violence, risky behavior, and defiance​6​.

Psychological control during childhood and adolescence is also associated with poor child adjustment and outcomes in adolescence and young adulthood​7​. Children learn to use insults, manipulation, and humiliation as means of interaction and control​8​.

Becoming a victim

Children who have been psychologically bullied at home could develop feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem, resulting in their inability to defend themselves effectively from their peers. Such children are likely to assume the bullying victim role​9​.

Studies have shown that parental aggression in childhood increases the risk of children being re-victimized in school.

Bullied children are also more susceptible to mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety​10​

Causes of hostile parenting

Cross-generational transmission

A hostile-aggressive parent who was physically disciplined in childhood shows a more aversive and less nurturing parenting style​11​.

Less effective parenting behavior, and is more likely to believe in and practice similar abusive behaviors on their own children​12​.

In particular, adolescents who grew up with hostile parenting behaviors are more likely to act aggressively toward their future children.

Authoritarian belief

Aggressive parents tend to be authoritarian parents​13​

Authoritarian parenting is one of the four Baumrind parenting styles. This parenting style is characterized by parents who are cold, unresponsive, and demanding. They are strict, hostile, confrontational, and non-agreeable.

They are more likely to use harsh parenting methods because they believe in the legitimacy of strict, physical discipline.

Community violence

Psychologically and physically violent parenting is positively associated with the intensity of community violence.

Mothers exposed to moderate and high levels of community violence are more than twice as likely to use punitive parenting​14​.

How to recover from aggressive parenting

It was not your fault

If you are recovering from the trauma of an abusive childhood, first know that it wasn’t your fault. It was never your fault. Child abuse is wrong regardless of the reason.

Keep a distance

For many victims of child maltreatment, keeping a physical distance from the parents keeps them feeling safe.

No guilt or shame

For various reasons, child abuse victims often experience a range of guilt or shame. You are not the one who needs to feel this way; the person who abused you is. Also, don’t let others invalidate you or make you doubt yourself. You don’t need anyone’s permission to feel the way you do.

Build a support network

Having friends who can support you emotionally is great. However, not all of them will understand what you went through. Develop a network of friends who have similar experiences with issues that you are facing.

Professional help

Professional help may sometimes be necessary, especially if you have been bullied or participated in bullying. One way to begin the healing process is by engaging in individual therapy or group therapy​15​.

How to stop parenting aggressively

Punitive parenting is heavily influenced by psychology. 

To stop parenting with violence, a parent must believe that punishment is not the answer to discipline. There are other more effective methods besides beating or guilting a child into submission.

Here is what strict parents can do to stop parenting using fear.

Become authoritative

Adopt an authoritative parenting style, the best parenting style. An authoritative parent is warm and responsive. Yet they have high standards for the child’s behavior.

Enroll in effective parenting programs

Learn effective parenting through programs recommended by local community social services.

Seek therapy

Parents who are harsh are likely to have unresolved issues they may be unaware of and need help to work through. Consulting a professional will help them get started.


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