Tots that turn into terrible tyrants: The complete parents’ guide to why cute kids become monsters

Three-year-olds who kick parents and grandparents, 5- and 6-year-olds who commit acts of violence against each other and swear at teachers, children who won’t do as they are told, whine, demand presents and attention from everyone – these are children that have turned into tyrants after being treated like royalty. Today, society is at the service of children. Parents treat children like a unique and expensive present – one that comes ever later in life and often not more than once – and, at the same time, they demand that children have a mature, adult comprehension of grownups’ problems. On the one hand, they are afraid of being called bad parents, while, on the other, they burden their children with their own frustrations and anxiety. For their part, children experience great insecurity and, not knowing how to react, become aggressive. Parents and children alike lack certainty: parents over their ability to raise children and children over being put into roles that are inappropriate for their age. Overprotected «Tyrants in the making,» as they are referred to in the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, «are not simply small bullies without a father, or abandoned by families in desperate straits. All the more frequently, they are children made sick by too much care and protection.» Family counselor A. Halimou-Gavriilidi told Kathimerini: «Young parents are willing to secure whatever is needed for their newborn baby to be healthy and happy. The baby starts being trained early in how to enjoy everything that is so generously offered. By the time it is a toddler, the child has been taught it can have whatever – whenever and however – it wants. However, as the child grows older, it needs to have more restrictions placed on it. That’s when it gets difficult for the young princeling, who flies into ever more frequent tantrums and turns into a small tyrant. Things become problematic and risky for both the parents and the tyrannical child. And, of course, the child has not become a tyrant all by itself, since parents and relatives have long contributed to its selfishness.» Aris is now 6 years old, a highly intelligent child with a sense of humor who is wholly familiar with all the electronic appliances in the house. But Aris is unable to eat alone, cannot get dressed alone and whatever is not directly useful to him is hurled – in rage or joy – in any direction. Aris always gets his own way; his parents’ every «no» gives way before the threat of unbearable temper tantrums. Aris has no problems with his teeth or esophagus, but turns the process of chewing and swallowing into a veritable ordeal for anyone looking after him. He has no problems of movement, but it is almost impossible for his mother to put his trousers on straight; his limbs and body are stiff and unhelpful while his hands are busy with some toy. In the past, there were parents who tyrannized their children with unending, autocratic behavior. The establishment of «democracy» within the family was an important conquest and brought about important progress. Now, parents listen to the views of their children and respect their rights. However, this is far removed from being the cock of the walk, which is what some children have become due to lack of discipline from modern parents. Egalitarianism is not a neat package of nice feelings but a constant conflict of views in which parents must know how to say no to the child – for it be able to understand a «yes.» And when parents do not properly perform their roles, their children will force them to do so with their behavior – which usually includes mostly verbal elements of violence and aggression. Son-turned-husband Often, aggressive, tyrannical behavior by children or adolescents toward their parents has its roots in the pursuit of an overly close emotional relationship on the part of the parents. The phenomenon is often – though not always – observed between single mothers and their sons. As educational psychologist A. Mouyer said: «It’s quite a common phenomenon, especially when the parents are divorced. Mothers make their sons take on the emotional role of a husband in order to make up for the lack of a partner. They don’t do it consciously, nor do they intend to do their child harm but a child that bears such a burden becomes very aggressive. Not because it doesn’t love its mother, but because it is an insupportable relationship.» In these cases, the aggressive, tormenting behavior of the child essentially is the price paid for the excessive emotional dependence that the parent has cultivated, which limits his autonomy and prevents him from acquiring his own inner world, his own identity. «If you observe children carefully, you can see them trying to become independent from an early age,» said Mouyer. «One of the first phrases they learn how to say is ‘by myself’.» In other cases, the parent who regards the child as defense against life’s difficulties will treat it like a small adult to whom he or she feels she can confide everything. «What parents don’t understand is that in doing this, they plunge their child into a state of great confusion,» said Mouyer. And she added, «Isn’t it natural for a young child of 5 or 6 to feel anxiety and insecurity when its mother, a woman of 35, asks it whether she should divorce her husband?» The child is transformed into a refuge or a savior. It has not been set any boundaries and it is showered with material goods. Parents on the verge of divorce or depression often ask their child to stand by them and then reward it with the role of the head of the household. «When the child is not the parent’s only interest, then the parent finds on their own the balance between tenderness and strictness,» said psychiatrist-psychotherapist N. Dorbarakis. «When the child becomes the only meaningful focus for the parent, the parent does not set the child boundaries. The child is therefore forced to work out the rules by itself. What rules can a child set for itself? This results in both parent and child living in a chaotic situation,» he added. Mothers often feel guilty because they work and are away from home. Fathers are confused over their parental role. They believe they should listen to their children and talk things over while at the same time being strict. Young parents lose the thread and feel uncertain that they are good parents. Message of insecurity «If parents realized how much it depends on them for a child to slowly and gradually feel secure and self-sufficient, they would surely find ways to meet this need for parental presence,» said Halimou-Gavriilidi. «What matters is not how much time the parent spends with the child, but the quality of that time and what messages the child receives. The mother or the father might sigh and say: ‘Come, let’s play or talk because I don’t have much time. I’ve got all sorts of things to do.’ Then the child receives the message, ‘You’re not important to me, I’ve got a lot more important things to do.’ That hurts, angers and enrages the child, who is transformed into a tyrant. «The father or the mother could say with a smile: ‘Now it’s our time together. How happy I am that we’re playing and talking together, that we’re sharing as much free time as we have.’ Then the child is receiving another message: ‘You’re a great child. You can do a lot.’ That second message makes the child feel happy. It feels secure and sure of itself and it begins slowly, without whining and aggression, to become more independent and spread its wings.»

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