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Family - «Shut up, mom!»: When children terrorize their parents

"Shut up, mom!": When children terrorize their parents

To be threatened, abused and beaten by one's own child makes one helpless. This is a reality in every tenth family in Switzerland. But there are ways out of the spiral of violence

Lea is 11 years old and lives with her parents with two younger brothers. The mother works part-time, the father is professionally involved and often away from home. At first glance, a completely normal family. But a storm is raging behind the facade. After tensions arose between mother and daughter on several occasions, Lea refuses to go to school one morning.

The encouraging persuasion of the mother in the following days is of no use, Lea continues to behave sullen and stubborn. When the mother threatens to withdraw her cell phone, the argument degenerates into mutual insults, the squabbling swells to a scramble. If the mother tries to order Lea from the house, Lea throws her "Fuck you, you bitch!" and suddenly pulls her hair.

Britta Went knows the dynamic of violence in which Lea and her mother are stuck. The couple and family therapist at the parents' emergency number advises mothers and fathers on problems with upbringing and family conflicts. Parents come to Britta Went who experience psychological or physical violence from their children. One in ten families is affected, says the expert. It is not about two-year-olds who are stuck in the defiant phase, or about brash abuses by 5-year-olds - but about children and young people who exceed the limits of the normal family hubbub. "If a 6-year-old takes the salt shaker because of the tablet that his mother does not want to give him and threatens to dump the salt on the carpet, and he does so promptly, it can trigger massive feelings of helplessness in the mother," says the specialist .

What exactly is to be understood by violence is not that easy to assign. If, however, the parents feel that they are no longer the captain of the family ship, when they are insulted, threatened, spat on and beaten, this may no longer be debited under childish impetus or adolescent hormone flooding. Then parents have to act. Often, however, there is a lack of ability to act, and many parents are paralyzed.

Not a question of the shift

The spiral of violence usually turns behind a well-locked door. Because being hit with fists and kicked feet by one's own child triggers feelings of shame and guilt. Many parents doubt their upbringing and negate the problem: "It is difficult to admit that you are in danger of losing your parental role," says Went. It is better to claim that the child is sick, has ADHD or pubertal hypersensitivity.

Lea's mother also explains to the teacher that her daughter is lying in bed with a cold. Instead of getting to the bottom of the refusal to attend school, the mother curls up and is under pressure on two fronts. Before going to school she wants to keep the secret of the undignified condition at home, and at home - parallel to the mother's impotence - the child's power increases. In a fit of anger, Lea kicks her mother's cell phone down.

Overly aggressive behavior by children towards their parents is by no means a question of social class. “Middle-class families report to the Zurich parent emergency number, the parents are highly competent at work and fill well-paid positions. At home, however, they struggle to live up to their parenting role, ”says Went.

Assaults are all the more taboo when parents have raised their children on an equal footing, offered them everything and renounced a lot. Maybe also to set limits. Nobody wants to go back to black pedagogy in the style of discipline and order. The downside of modern upbringing, however, is sometimes evident in the lack of help and disorientation on the part of many parents. "In the past, you could get advice from the pastor or doctor when you had worries with your children, and women would get parenting instructions from their mothers," says Went. The advice corresponded to more or less uniform norms and values. Society defined where the line was to be drawn from undesirable behavior. That has changed. The right to interpret “right” and “wrong” in upbringing rests with the parents, with many getting lost in the thicket of educational concepts.

Radio SRF broadcast on the topic:

Respond to outbursts of anger

Jesper Juul is someone who deals with family conflicts. Aggression is deeply human for the Danish family therapist. A baby cries because it is hungry. The toddler yells when he is not allowed to keep the teddy bear from the toy store, the school child throws the homework book in the corner and the teen finds the short exit time an impertinence. Children's everyday life is paved with frustrations. For Jesper Juul, the anger felt is a legitimate feeling. In his book "Aggression", Juul emphasizes how the parents deal with outbursts of anger.

If a mother, who is called a “stupid cow” by her little daughter out of the blue, seizes her upper arms, shakes her and shouts loudly and hatefully: “Never say that again! You're a bad girl, go to your room until you're ready to apologize to me. Go! ”She reacts dismissively and destructively.

It is constructive when the mother looks friendly and directly into the child's eyes and says: “Oh dear, you are angry. I would like to know what made you so angry. Can you tell me that?" Words, posture and body language convey to the child: No matter what you were so annoyed about, I am there for you! It is often not clear why the spiral of violence is beginning to turn in some families - and the search for reasons is ineffective. Because it often leads to accusations instead of solutions.

It is more important than digging into the past to have a manual available to find a way out of the poisoned mood. One who works in a solution-oriented manner is the Israeli psychologist Haim Omer. His concept of "nonviolent resistance" has shown resounding success in recent years. Parents learn to convey the message to the child who is behaving in a destructive manner that they will not accept their behavior and will do everything to stop it - except to hit the child and defame it verbally.

The idea is based on Gandhi's political thought and action. Haim Omer advocates that parents show authority that is based not on power but on presence. They confront the child's unacceptable behavior without provoking escalation. One of Haim Omer's key phrases is: "Violence must be made public."

This is the only way affected parents can step out of the shamefaced silence and look for “allies” inside and outside the family: precisely those relatives, neighbors, friends who have been pretended to be “ideal”. These are supposed to help with the so-called sit-ins, for example. In a sit-in, the parents sit down with the child and tell him that they will not tolerate the violence and that they expect suggestions from him to ease the situation. If the child flips out, the parents do not allow themselves to be provoked, but wait in silence.

Omer's clientele often includes tough boys and girls, but his concept also works for younger children. The parental emergency number makes use of the instrument of nonviolent resistance. As part of the pilot project “Stay tuned”, family therapist Went works with parents to develop strategies on how they can get out of the power struggle with their children. In the course of the counseling, they are given tools with which they can regulate their faint and bring them back to the center of the family.

This is an abbreviated contribution from ‹wir eltern». The current issue is available at the kiosk.

Ring the neighbor's doorbell

It took a while until Lea's family found their way back to calmer waters. First of all, the mother managed to stop calling Leah in school, but to overcome the shame and admit that she was overwhelmed with her daughter. Given the history of bullying that emerged, it was agreed that Leah would be better off changing schools. If sparks of violence flare up again at home, the mother will now ring a good neighbor's doorbell to speak up. Instead of insisting, she breaks free from the confused two-person situation with Lea.

The father, who until now has avoided any conflicts and has always been indulgent towards Lea, manages to be more present thanks to the advice and - albeit taciturnly - still clearly stands behind the mother. "It's not a sprint, it's a marathon that parents sometimes have to do," says Britta Went appreciatively and on the way to the next consultation. "But the effort is worth it!"