Kids Who are Verbally Abusive: The Creation of a Defiant Child
by James Lehman
When you’re standing
in your kitchen, and you’re fighting back tears and rage as your son is calling you “b---h,” you don’t have time to do much of anything but react. But when he’s
stormed out the door or up to his room, the question arises in your mind yet again: “Why is he like this? Why does he
talk to me this way?”
Verbal abuse and intimidation by children and teens isn’t just a phase that goes away; it doesn’t
“just happen.” It often has deep roots that begin very early in a child’s development. In this article,
I’m going to show you how your child’s abusive behavior may have evolved. Then next week, I’ll show you what you can do to stop it.
should be noted that there are times when kids can get very mouthy as a reaction to stress, chaos or even as part of the developmental stage they’re going through. They can become testy in their answers to
you, and their tone may become defiant or condescending.
But abusive children cross a line when they start attacking people verbally, demeaning others, or threatening to harm themselves - or someone else. The verbalization of threats, name-calling and intimidation gives them power. Those are the kids we’re focusing on in this article, and usually they cross the line at a very early age.
Power: The Prime Motivator
Why do kids threaten and verbally abuse their parents? One reason is that when these children feel powerless, they lash out in an attempt to gain more control. Another reason is that they don’t have the problem-solving skills
necessary to deal with frustration, to deal with disappointment or to resolve conflicts in a more appropriate manner.
Children may fail to develop
social problem-solving skills for a variety of reasons, which include diagnosed and undiagnosed learning disabilities, family
chaos, or individual temperament. Consequently, these kids often become overwhelmed by the emotions they’re experiencing
as a result of their inability to solve social problems appropriately.
If they don’t have
the tools to deal with these uncomfortable feelings, they resort to name-calling, threats and verbal abuse of those around them.
It is my firm belief that kids also threaten their parents because in our culture today, power has become the solution for the problems people face. That message comes at children from every conceivable source. Movies,
music, video games, politics and pro sports glorify aggression and the use of power to get your way.
Preteens and adolescents
are the most vulnerable to cultural messages, and the message they are getting says that if you’re weak, if you’re
alone, you lose. Don’t kid yourself; this is not wasted on our youth. From a very early age, kids are taught that fighting
for power and control will solve their problems. And as they get older, that fight becomes a lot more intense.
Now let’s say you have a child who, for whatever reason, has poor problem-solving skills. He sees the
message of power around him on T.V., in his community and in his culture. He then learns how to use power in the form of threats and verbal abuse to replace his lack of problem-solving abilities. Instead of having to deal with his emotions and overcome whatever given
obstacle is in his path, that child uses acting-out behavior, aggressive behavior and abusive behavior so that somebody else
has to solve his problems for him. In effect, using this acting out, aggressive or abusive behavior becomes his problem-solving skill. This is a very dangerous pattern for a child to develop.
How Defiance Develops in Your Child
When we raise our children, we are teaching them 24 hours
a day, 7 days a week, whether we think they’re learning from us or not. Children watch adults for a living. What parents
don’t always understand is that chronic defiance in children develops over time, after certain lessons are learned and it can start very early on.
Let’s take the case of a child who was a fairly normal baby. He’s achieved all the developmental
milestones, was perhaps a little cranky at times, but generally, behaved age-appropriately. As he gets a little older, he
starts having more problems. At about the age of five, he begins to balk at the idea of picking up after himself, whether
it’s his dirty clothes going into the hamper or toys with which he’s been playing. If he’s told to clean
things in his room, he goes to the living room instead of complying.
When asked to finish the
task at hand, he says, “I don’t want to,” and that becomes his battle cry. His parents have to stand over
him to get anything done. As he gets older, he starts to challenge and justify, his voice gets louder and his tone gets rougher.
He gets stuck in the loop of saying, “I don’t want to. I don’t have to. I’ll do it later. Why do I
have to do it now?” When pushed, he will do things grudgingly, but only when adults are watching him. And as soon as
they leave the room, his compliance stops.
Some parents will respond to this behavior
by lowering their expectations. They place less responsibility on their child to pick up after himself. They wind up picking
up his dirty clothes every day and picking up his books and toys, rather than dealing with his resistance, excuses and thinking
errors. They think it’s easier and keeps the peace if they just to “do it themselves.”
For the parents, this can seem like a really good way to cut down on the fighting. After all, it only takes
them 30 seconds to put the books away and pick up their child’s laundry. By the way, that’s a very common response
and in some cases, it works out fine. But there are certain children who see that their parents have changed their rules and
expectations because they fear their child’s resistance and acting out.
are the children for whom capitulation on the part of the parents becomes a lesson. The lesson is, “If I throw a tantrum
and scream at my mother and father, I’m going to get my way.” For these children, what tends to happen is that
they start throwing more tantrums, yelling more frequently and using these inappropriate behaviors to solve their social problems.
Very early in life, children have to learn to deal with the word “no.” They have to
learn the feelings of frustration or anger that are triggered when they hear it. In that way, being told “no”
is a social problem that they have to solve. Most children develop the social skills of managing the feelings that are triggered
when they’re denied something.
But when the children I’m
talking about are told “no” in a department store, their behavior escalates until they’re tantruming. And
what tends to happen over time is that parents read the signals:
they see that the behavior
is escalating, and they try to do something about it before the tantrum begins.
In other words, as the child
gives them cues that he’s going to soon lose control if they keep placing the same demands on him, they lessen their
demands. That lowering of expectations usually occurs by over-negotiating, compromising, or giving in to their child’s
In this way, these kids
learn to shape the behavior of the adults around them. Make no bones about it, when parents change their routine because a
child throws a tantrum, or verbally abuses them, they’re teaching that child that he can have power over them through inappropriate behavior. And once again, it’s not a lesson lost on that child.
While that’s going on, there’s a parallel process in which the parents are learning, as well. That
lesson is, “If the child is given into, he stops tantruming and stops acting out.” For most parents, stopping
the acting out is important because its embarrassing and frustrating.
And so the parents are taught
by the child that if they do what he wants, things will get easier, and if they don’t hold him accountable, even at
24 months, he’ll stop yelling and having temper tantrums. Parents learn to tolerate more inappropriate, acting-out behavior
from the child. I call it “Parents raising their tolerance for deviance.” And those two processes, separate though
parallel, build on each other and form the child’s way of dealing with life.
course, as the child gets older, tantrums take on a very different look. Since lying on the floor and screaming and kicking
your feet makes kids feel embarrassed when they reach a certain age, they learn various forms of verbal abuse, including name-calling, putting others down, and threatening.
They enter kindergarten
and try to throw tantrums or fight with their teachers, and then wonder why they aren’t allowed to get away with things
in school. Many times, they have problems getting along with other kids. When you think about it, the sandbox is a very commonsense
place. If your child is in the sandbox with other kids and he’s yelling at them and calling them names or threatening to hurt them, they won’t play with him anymore - that’s all there is to it.
And if your child is using
inappropriate behavior as a way to get his way, the other kids are going to avoid him. If they have no choice but to accommodate
him, once again he will fail to develop appropriate social skills. The lesson that he can get his way by verbally abusing others is reinforced.
So the intimidation between
that child and his parents, and between that child and his peers, can start pretty early. Remember that there might be any
number of reasons why a child is acting out and unable to handle the difficulties life presents:
he might not learn to solve
problems effectively because he has a neurological impairment like ADHD, an undiagnosed learning disability, a chaotic family
life, or just a personal tendency to be oppositional.
The acting-out child then
enters adolescence and is a teen whose only problem-solving skills are to talk back abusively, put others down and curse at
them, threaten to break things, or even use physical violence. One of the theories of The Total Transformation Program is that it doesn’t
really matter what prevents your child from learning how to solve problems - rather, it’s his inability to do this that
leads to the inappropriate behavior. This includes the use of power thrusts like verbal abuse, physical intimidation and assault.
The truth is, it’s a core part of our job as parents to teach our children problem-solving skills and to show them that tantrums,
screaming, yelling and name-calling, verbal abuse and intimidation will not solve their problems. The reason why we need to step in and help them change their ineffective way of dealing with life’s problems is because the more we give power to inappropriate, verbally abuse, behavior the less prepared that child is going to be to solve life’s problems as an adult. Make no mistake about it,
children who use verbal abuse, name-calling, cursing and intimidation, become verbally abusive adults.
James Lehman is a behavioral therapist and the creator of The Total Transformation
Program for parents. He has worked with troubled children and teens for three decades. James holds a Masters Degree in Social
Work from Boston University. For more information, visit www.thetotaltransformation.com.
Use Your Mental Game to Overcome Self-Intimidation
Dr. Patrick J. Cohn
Intimidation is a massive mental barrier for many athletes.
It often happens when you compare yourself to your opponent's skills before competition. Many athletes worry about the skill
level of their opponents and then feel inferior, for example.
What do you think about when you see the word intimidation?
Do you think about feeling intimidated by an opponent or do you see yourself as the intimidator?
in sports comes from your own thought process, which I call *self-intimidation*. Some athletes try to intimidate others intentionally
because they think it gives them a mental edge, or feel they need to do this to win. However, most intimidation comes from
athletes who psych themselves out - all on their own.
They psych themselves out because of negative thoughts or fears,
which then turn into mental gremlins. Self-intimidation is what you bring on yourself because you worry too much about your
competition or the team you are about to play.
One student I coach, for example, gets intimidated by the ranking of
his opponent. If his competitor has a high ranking, he begins to doubt his ability to win the match. And then he plays tight
and is afraid he will lose the match.
Self-intimidation is the most common type of intimidation in sports and the hardest
intimidation to overcome. You can easily ignore what others might say to you to yank you out of the zone, but you cannot ignore
your own doubts or feelings of inferiority!
Self-intimidation can come in many forms such as:
to perform your best or win.
-Worry about performing against other athletes who are just as skilled.
to other athletes who you think are better.
-Worry about competing against a *ranked* or well-known athlete.
caught up in the hoopla or importance of a game.
Confident and composed athletes do not intimidate themselves. Confident
athletes, who are in control of their emotions, love the challenge of testing their skills against others athletes. The bigger
and better the challenge, the more enjoyment they gain from the competition.
Many athletes are not even aware that they
intimidate themselves because doubt can be very subtle such as, "Can I beat this athlete who has more wins than me? "
first task in overcoming intimidation is to be very honest with yourself, and recognize those times when you are psyching
yourself out of the competition before you even start!
Look for signs such as:
-You give too much energy to your
competition during pregame.
-You have doubts about playing well against a certain competitor or team.
-You are in awe
of the situation or hoopla of the competitive environment.
-You feel inferior to the competition and make comparisons to
Once you are aware that you are psyching yourself out with self-intimidation, you can move forward to improve
your self-composure and poise.
Want to learn simple, proven mental toughness skills that you can apply
to competition? Grab my free online mental training newsletter, Sports Insights Magazine - for athletes, coaches, and sports
source site: www.selfgrowth.com