What parents tell us about their child’s aggression

Are you finding that your child has become increasingly angry? Perhaps you are caught in a cycle of arguing, punishing, pleading or fighting with your child/teenager. For many, this may be a pattern that has become well established in your relationship with your child - with every day a new round of shouting and door slamming. For some of you, this fighting may have become physical - with you or other people in your family being injured or property in your home being damaged. You may be stressed and upset to find that your child no longer seems to respect you or work within your rules or expectations and sad that your relationship has come this. Perhaps you are feeling completely powerless. You may even be fearful about how far this fighting will go. Our service aims to offer you a way out of this situation - to find a way to reduce the conflict that has become so established and to build a better and stronger relationship with your child.

All across Ireland - and indeed throughout the Western world - parents are reporting that their children are becoming more aggressive and at times, violent.

Parents often say that they are “treading on egg-shells” with their child or refer to their son or daughter as “ruling the roost”. They may talk about being afraid to challenge their child and report giving in to demands for more money, different meals than those that have been prepared, access to WiFi late in the evening and perhaps lifts at unreasonable times and with little notice. Parents tell us that when they attempt to refuse the demands of their child, then “all hell breaks loose”. In response, parents often submit to demands and in doing so, over a period of time, they undermine their own authority in the family and the child becomes more powerful. It is not unusual in these situations for a child to demand a particular chair, control over the remote control in the TV room and other privileges that would not generally be granted so readily. Brothers and sisters are often put in to second place by the aggressive child – with the parent also demanding that the sibling gives in to the demands – just to keep the peace and to prevent him or her from “kicking off”.

When a parent’s authority has been compromised, their attempts to address their aggressive child’s behaviour can be met with various degrees of aggression, hostility and violence. There appears to be little difference between the manner in which the child exerts his/her power to that which exists in other forms of family violence. Physical injuries, verbal abuse, the damaging of property and belongings and threats to injure are common. Financial abuse may occur with a child taking money from a parent or a parent giving in to demands for money to avoid escalating the situation. In addition, some parents report that a child might threaten to injure him or herself – and in cases, a child may even threaten suicide if the parent does not give in to their demands. This can be extremely distressing for parents. We strongly recommend that all threats of self-harm are taken seriously and that parents should seek professional advice in these cases.

"I just can't talk to her anymore without all hell breaking loose. She completely rules the roost."

"We have tried everything - rewards, consequences, threats - nothing works. He is so abusive to us all."

"I just can't handle this anymore - the stress is constant. She is completely in charge at this stage. It's easier to just give in."

"He's just like his father - there's no talking to him. I've had enough."

"I feel completely helpless - it's all getting out of control."

"There's nothing I can do - there must be something wrong with her."