Blackmail, Violence And Emotional Abuse As Parenting Tools

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Blackmail is a crime. I think we’d all agree with that.

Emotional blackmail is abuse. Again – we all agree.

So why on earth would anyone offer emotionally blackmailing a child as a suitable option/alternative to smacking?

A mother asked on a parenting group the other day what she could do about her very destructive 21 month old. In response she had answers like this:

Now, I know that we all sometimes lose our cool. Sometimes frustration and circumstance can get on top of us and the gentlest parent can run out of patience, of simply just make a mistake. But that’s when we’ve failed our ideals. It happens. You apologise and you move on. You don’t start out with manipulation, blackmail and abuse as your foundation! Where on earth do you go to from there?!

I’m sorry, but pricking a child with a pin sounds like abuse to me. Manipulating a child – when we’re told to not let children manipulate us – is wrong. You’re the boss? No, you’re the parent. There’s a difference. Threatening to swap your child with another? Pretending to cry? Abuse, abuse, abuse, whether you can see the scars or not. You’re teaching that child that your love is conditional on their behaviour and I’m sorry, call me judgemental if you want, but I do NOT see how this is acceptable adult behaviour.

One of the commenters said “A smack on the bottom or legs has never done a child any harm! Look at society THEN, when a spanking was part n parcel of bringing up kids n our society of NOW/today…where smacking ‘is not allowed’?!?! Compare the societies. Our parents n grandparents could not dare, back chat or swear or spit at their parents, n where a stare alone…made them aware of their naughty behaviour. 

There are so many things in that statement that are inaccurate, in my view. For a start, children today aren’t the problem with society - it’s the ADULTS of today who are the problem – and they were the children that were disciplined with emotional blackmail, threats, and physical violence. Saying lack of a good old fashioned hiding is what’s causing societal destruction is simply narrow minded.

My daughter knows by my stare when she is doing something wrong. She knows when I say – Ameli, look at me - that I’m trying to get her attention, and that she needs to desist what she’s doing. And mostly, she does. And when she doesn’t, we deal with it by removing her from the situation. Of course, this takes greater patience than just walloping a child at the drop of a hat. And no, I’m not talking about beating them  black and blue either, but the truth is, and I know from my own experiences, the only time I’ve ever smacked Ameli has been out of my frustration, my loss of control, and she has learned nothing from it at all.  I am perfectly capable of using a stare alone to point out my awareness of her actions. The smack isn’t needed. The violence achieves nothing positive.

Emotional blackmail comes in such an innocent packaging too. Aw. Why won’t you kiss Aunty Mabel? Don’t you love me? I’m all sad now. Johnny doesn’t want to kiss me. A kiss out of guilt is just not that gratifying, really. If you force an adult to be physically intimate with you, I think they call it sexual harassment, in its worst form, rape. But we can force children?

And it’s an easy thing to slip into. I’ve seen it happen with Ameli. I’ve done it myself. It’s easy to, because lack of respect for our individuality as children is, for the most part, the social norm. It’s what we were brought up with. Our generation, and that of our parents.

How do these two messages equate:

At a 2 year old girl:  You don’t want to give me a kiss and a cuddle, so you don’t love me.

At a 15 year old girl: You don’t have to have sex with a boy to show him you like him.

Somewhere in those 13 years, our message to our children changes. How can it not be confusing to them?

If I want my 15 year old to have respect for herself, to have autonomy over her body, and to know that she never has to do anything she isn’t comfortable with, I have to teach my 2 year old that lesson.

And she will only respect her 15 year old body when I’ve shown her that her 2 year old body is worthy of respect.

So, that’s an example. Perhaps an over the top one, but my hope is to make you think about the message you are giving your child. And really, Aunty Mabel can wait for that kiss.

We all make mistakes from time to time. Success is measured, in this case, by being aware of what we’re doing, and being aware of the consequences to our children.

“Battered children will batter others, punished children will act punitively, children lied to become liars themselves, protected children learn to be protective, respected children learn to respect others weaker than themselves. “In the short term, corporal punishment may produce obedience. But it is a fact documented by research that in the long term the results are: inability to learn, violence and rage, bullying and cruelty, inability to feel another’s pain, especially that of one’s own children…. unless there are enlightened, or at least helping, witnesses on hand to prevent that development.”

Alice Miller, Ph.D., author of For Your Own Good – Hidden Cruelty in Childrearing And the Roots of Violence.

If a child hits a child, it’s called aggression.
If a child hits an adult, it’s called defiance.
If an adult hits an adult, it’s called assault.
If an adult hits a child, it’s called discipline. – Anonymous

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14 thoughts on “Blackmail, Violence And Emotional Abuse As Parenting Tools

  1. Trecia@Kitchen Playsets

    Absolutely excellent post! This really has given me a lot to think about.
    Trecia@Kitchen Playsets’s last blog post ..Disney Princess Kitchen Review

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  2. HHO generator

    Interesting post I hope you dont mind if I link to it from my news blog.

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  3. Excellent post! It really resonated with me when you wrote that it’s the adults of today that are the problem (the same adults that were treated poorly as children).

    But my biggest question, is how to deal with the well-intending “aunty mabels” who use emotional blackmail? I’ve tried to respond in the past, saying something (in that cutesy voice) like “not getting a kiss doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you” to point out how ridiculous the request is.. but sometimes I wonder if there’s something else I can say? Or even strangers in the supermarket, who keep asking for a smile or a wave… maybe I just have to get to a place where *I* can smile instead of expecting her to smile in response, and let that be enough. hmmm….

    Anyway- obviously it was a thought-provoking post! Thank you!
    Carrie’s last blog post ..Sundary Surf

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    Luschka Reply:

    @Carrie, Hi Carrie (sorry for the delay in responding!)

    HOW to deal with the AUnty Mabels? I don’t know, really. For me, I’ve waited for the right time, and then explained to ‘her’ that we’re trying a different approach to parenting, and we’re very conscious of our words, and giving an example – not the one used, but an example – like, for instance, if she didn’t eat her food, I wouldn’t say she’s making me sad.

    Then, if aunty mabel does similar again, I say to Ameli- don’t worry darling, you can kiss aunty mabel later, she knows you love her, actually.

    But there comes a point where i go direct too. with my hubby, he’ll sometimes pretend to cry, then i just say ‘blackmail’. It’s like a danger word. We keep a check on each other, so it’s fine, and then we can change our behaviour.

    Mostly, people don’t know they’re doing it. They don’t know that it’s ‘wrong’ and they will normally change. If they don’t, I’ll just pick my daughter up and say, in that cutesy voice, while giving her a huge hug, “no, aunty mabel, we don’t use blackmail for love. We respect boundaries. When she doesn’t want kisses, we don’t force her. They’re so much better when they’re voluntarily given anyway.”

    Passive agressive. Yeah. Probably. But so far, it’s worked.

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  4. NickyJ

    Oh and I just read the post that you took this from as I wondered what the context was for these comments (and was also horrified at the amount of “likes”… I agree with all your comments. I have to think that the root of the problem here was lack of parental supervision, the child in question has probably realised that they get the most attention after they’ve broken something. I never left a toddler alone long enough to do that kind of damage and I know that Ameli is never left unsupervised for this length of time either, and if she grabbed something like a glass you would be right there to make sure she couldn’t break it accidentally never mind throw it deliberately. They’re lucky that its only things that have been broken and that their child hasn’t seriously injured themselves. I’ve also noticed that the e-numbers and sugar argument largely falls on deaf ears, in this country at least, I hope its not the same everywhere. Excellent post, I agree wholeheartedly <3

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  5. NickyJ

    Oh my, I got goosebumps reading this, it is horrible. Certainly some tendencies toward child abuse coming out there. I am by no definition a perfect parent and make mistakes all the time, but I cannot imagine, even on my worst day, ever treating my child like that.

    One of the things I always thought they deserved was to understand the “why”. Sometimes it took superhuman patience, but once they could understand, I always explained why what they were doing was wrong. I also told said that if they didn’t stop I would have to punish them and explained what the punishment would be. I made it clear I didn’t want to have to punish them and it was their choice, I would give her to the count of 10 to stop or be punished. If they stopped there was no punishment, which happened most of the time. My “preferred” punishment is sitting on the bed for the amount of minutes that they are years old (for a 3 year old it is 3 minutes). I always make time to sit down and talk afterwards explaining what happened and why. This was followed by big hugs and kisses. Before this I used things like distraction as I truly believed they couldn’t understand they were being punished meaning it was just blatant cruelty.

    This was not always 100% effective and we have had our challenges along the way, but at the age of 17 I still use this technique with my daughter. Not the counting, but the explanation of why something is dangerous or unacceptable to me and why I cannot allow it. I have had problems with her as a teenager, but in the end I always come back to this and we discuss it and sooner or later she has always come back to me saying she understands that I’m not saying no just for the sake of it and she won’t do whatever it is.

    One of the most important things I learned along the way was to reinforce that I loved them no matter what they did but disliked a certain behaviour and only that. No matter what they did it had no effect on how I felt about them I just wished they wouldn’t do it. As a single parent I carry a lot of guilt and found myself reluctant to speak up in case my kids thought their only parent didn’t love them, it was an important lesson for me to learn and in turn to teach them. It will help them with the whole “if you love me you’ll have sex with me” (hopefully).

    With my son there were a whole lot of other challenges as he is on the autism spectrum. Not only were his verbal skills poor, but he lacked the understanding that other people had feelings at all. In addition to this he possessed the most unbelievable stubborn streak as well as an extremely high pain threshold. Smacking was never an option with him as it was cruel as he wouldn’t understand why and it would take an extreme level of violence to make any impact. The only thing I had working in my favour was that he had a very strong bond with me. So I taught him by doing things like pouting and looking sad when he did something wrong, all the while hugging him and reinforcing that I loved him as a person but a certain action made me sad. When he stopped he would get a huge smile, clapping etc. While this is one of the behaviours mentioned in the post above, and I can truly understand why it may be seen as emotional blackmail. In my opinion, in his case it was effective as it has taught him the basic fact that other people have feelings. Later on he has developed compassion and even empathy, which by definition children on the autistic spectrum either don’t have or find a challenge. When he could understand we have moved onto the explaining, counting and sitting on the bed. Again to me it is really important to explain why the behaviour is wrong and to reinforce that I love him even though I don’t like the particular behaviour. It is challenging and often leads to tantrums as he has a huge problem with criticism and often sees it as me not liking him, but we will carry on with it as it the only way I can really see to help him.

    In this day and age we have learned so much about emotions and have so many tools at our disposal, pin pricking or smacking helpless young children is akin to abuse and cruelty. I also think that you largely reap what you sow, so in my case I have children who feel it is OK to question me instead of just blindly doing what I say, I have created this behaviour by explaining myself and my actions from a young age and making them feel they deserve this. It is sometimes annoying, as I have to explain myself and with my eldest my opinion is up for debate. But I have to accept this as a by-product of my choice of parenting style. On the other hand if I had been resorting to violence without explanation I wonder what behaviour this would have resulted in?

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    Luschka Reply:

    @NickyJ, Thank you for such a well thought out comment Nicky.

    You’re right. I’m not a perfect parent either, and this post is not to shame anyone, but to get people to stop in their tracks and think. Unfortunately those who need to read it most probably never will, and if they did they would disagree, because no one wants to acknowledge that their ‘way’ is flawed, and also, changing is hard work.

    I agree COMPLETELY with the why thing, and although Ameli is still a baby, really, it’s already something I’ve incorporated in my speech with her – starting as I mean to go on. Instead of yelling, AMELI DON’T TOUCH THAT, going down on your knee and making eye contact and saying don’t touch that because it is HOT, then gently holding her hand CLOSE TO the stove so she can feel the heat is how we got her to understand and be aware of the stove, for example. It takes longer in the short term, but pays dividends in the long.

    From your example of punishment and choice and consequence, I think one thing becomes REALLY evident: communication and respect, and while I am no expert and can’t say your way is wrong or right, I do see that there is respect for your children in that. And that’s kind of my point – it’s less about HOW we raise our children than it is about WHY we raise them that way. You don’t just react to them, but actually have measured, thought out, CONSCIOUS actions. And I think that’s admirable.

    And you know what – from the sounds of it, her general response to you is one of respect too – how can it be anything else if that’s what’s been modelled to her? (Although, she is still a teen, so yeah, it’s not a fool proof plan, is it :p )

    As for your son, well, I say again that I am not a professional and don’t have experience with the ‘how to’ of treating this situation, but, again, your actions seem measured, thought out, and conscious – they don’t seem like acts of manipulation. If you look at it in a Maslow’s hierarchy of needs kind of way, we need to have the basics of food and housing sorted before we’re going to be able to invest in emotional ties, and only from there can we ‘self-actualise’ and study etc to better ourselves. I guess being on the autistic spectrum actually fits in to this – before your son can learn the meaning of emotion, he needs to learn to feel it, or at least associate with it. So while saying that might make me sound like an absolute hypocrite to what I’ve just written about, I don’t think, personally, that your doing so is in an attempt to simply guilt him into doing what you want.

    And if it’s any consolation, I think my parents feel your pain on this one – it’s all fine and well to raise a child to be a free thinker and independent once they’re adults, but it’s LIVING with them in the meantime that can be challenging! :) You’re doing a great job though. Just hang in there.

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  6. Unfortunately parents often don’t make the connection that their actions have bigger consequences than they think. And then they wonder why their children become bullies 10 years later. It’s the parents that need to be educated not the children. Great post thank you.
    Anna G’s last blog post ..Corporate Event Manager VS Wedding Planner

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    Luschka Reply:

    @Anna G, Thanks for commenting Anna. I agree – which is kind of what I said above: people NEED to be more conscious of their actions.

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  7. Phenomenal post. Those ‘suggestions’ to that poor mom make me sick. The one comment sounds very much like it’s quoted from Roald Dahl: “I’m smart, you’re dumb; I’m right you’re wrong; I’m big, you’re small…”

    I have a rule that I call the Granny Test. If it’s not acceptable to do to your frail, helpless Granny, then it’s not acceptable to do to your (or any) helpless child. Somehow I don’t think any of these people would advocate physically harming their grandmothers… especially that pin-pricking technique.
    KrissyFair’s last blog post ..Things that make you go huh Special over-the-hill edition

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    Luschka Reply:

    @KrissyFair, Krissy, I think that’s an incredible concept – the Granny Test – and I think it hits the nail on the head. For some reason, we just don’t see babies and children as humans. We do, whether we want to admit it or not, see them as lower than ourselves. That is tragic.

    I love your Grannny Test. Thanks for sharing that.

    [Reply]

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