By Ritika Jain
When a child faces something similar to bullying at home due to a parent’s bad temperament — be it anger management issues, cynical behaviour or lack of emotional support, it can be quite challenging to deal with.
I spoke with a mom about her teenage son, who’s currently going through a rebellious phase. She said, “My husband is a good provider but is often harsh with words. There’s constant bickering in the house. At times, he’s charged at me and even hit my son on occasion. He might regret it later but the damage has already been done. While growing up, my son probably believed that this is what all families are like. Now that he’s not so naive since he’s interacted with others in school and made comparisons, he’s more and more resentful. He often asks me why we can’t just leave everything and start a new life. He feels women are weak because I’m unable to take the big decision.”
She noted, “There’s so much bitterness in him that he’s started making crude remarks about those less fortunate than him, like beggars or simply someone from another class or religion, because he needs to take out that frustration somewhere. While I show disapproval, I can’t seem to correct this negativity by preaching alone. I’ve tried to intervene by taking him for meditation classes. They worked while he was young but he now shrugs them off as spiritual nonsense. Yet I worry for him because he’s vulnerable to peer pressure and drugs seem to be a common escape route these days.”
There are complex situations which can make a child’s life very difficult. Personal histories play an important role. If you had a parent who hit you, you might have learnt that as acceptable behaviour. Some people may have a personality disorder which is so deep-rooted that it’s nearly impossible to change. Some people are struggling with high-pressure jobs or are in a bad marriage, hence the mood swings. Some just aren’t good at empathising. And the list goes on. As a result of neglectful parenting, children can either feel cornered and withdraw into their own shell or take it out on other kids and be labelled as bullies themselves.
Dr Puneet Jain, a clinical psychologist comments, “I have seen single mothers who are frustrated themselves and treat their children as soft-targets. We try and raise these kids’ self-esteem and confidence. We also counsel the parent and give them coping mechanisms or try family counselling sessions. Often, they later feel guilty for having treated their child badly. Children’s memories are like data storage banks–baggage can surface much later in life and hamper their own relationships with their partners.”
“Kids who’ve been abandoned can turn into wild, unrestrained adults who want to extract their revenge from society in some way. Even if you decide to remove a child from a confrontational situation at home and put him in a hostel, the main issue of parents fighting hasn’t been addressed so it’ll be a temporary solution. In India, people look for quick solutions, that’s why faith healers are so popular. What is the need of the hour is changing of mindsets and asking for help from a professional when it’s required. We follow a step-by-step method and don’t treat anyone haphazardly,” he pointed out.
Dr Mudita Gupta, a family physician and child specialist, also takes classes teaching ‘lessons from the Gita’ for kids from her apartment complex. She remarked, “Kids have to be made internally strong. They have to be taught not to retaliate with aggression or be rude but to be polite and firm. If a child is bullied, he has to say ‘This is not right and I won’t accept this behaviour.’ I wouldn’t tell a child to respect someone who hasn’t earned it but I would advise everyone to be civil. In cases where the child has an abusive or temperamental parent, you must protect the child till he or she is young and needs to be shielded but let teens have their say. Don’t justify bad behaviour or push it under the carpet by saying ‘but he’s your dad.’ They’ll have to grow up and face the world at some stage so the first lessons must be taught at home.”
She added, “Children who grow up in a tensed atmosphere can have stress or be poor in studies but most importantly, they can lose trust in people. When you show them your ugly side every now and then, they start believing that every person has this side to them. In most such cases, the calmer of the two parents has the responsibility to reinforce positive thinking and talk to the child about their feelings. A child can be taught to take charge of his own state of mind. Of course, if things are way out of control and there’s physical punishment involved, the sensible thing to do is to move out of that situation altogether.”