Intimidation or Terrorizing
Children need a safe and stable environment to grow in, and they also need healthy attachments to their caretakers. The use of intimidation by a parent or other caretaker erodes both of these. Parents who use intimidation to control their child erode the parent-child bond. Intimidation undercuts the very foundation upon which loving parent-child relationships should be built. Much like the harsh dictator of a communist country is secretly resented by its citizens, a parent who utilizes intimidation with their child may gain compliance, but it comes with a hefty price: resentment, weaker bonds, and a child who feels bullied.
Intimidation most commonly arises out of improper disciplining techniques. A frustrated parent resorts to intimidation and in-your-face tactics to gain compliance. Less commonly it can be pathological; in that the parent receives a certain amount of satisfaction by intimidating their child. There are several common forms this intimidation can take:
1. Invading a child’s body space while talking/disciplining An episode of ABC’s Supernanny caught a perfect example of this; filming a father who would grab his children by the chin and grunt harsh-voiced ultimatums at them about an inch away from their face. Supernanny correctly pointed out his abusive behavior and gave him an in-your-face demonstration of how it feels – she did the same to him. He didn’t like it too much.
2. Strutting and posturing
Along the same lines, strutting and posturing creates a similar effect. It may occur with an invasion of body space (a parent towering above a small child) or occur at a distance. Either way, it involves using threatening body language.
3. Displays of anger
Yelling, screaming, throwing things across the room, punching walls, kicking furniture; all these displays of anger and more are often used by abusive parents to intimidate others.
4. Intentionally scaring the child
This could involve using a child’s particular fears/phobias as a means of control or implied threat. For example, a child who is terrified of the dark basement is given the punishment of banishment to the basement as either an actual or implied punishment. Or it might involve placing the child in unpredictable or cyanotic circumstances or recognizably dangerous situation. It could also be making statements that are intended to scare the child. (“When kids act like that, often times their parents drop them off in the woods and leave them there; you’re going to be in a world of pain if you keep that up.”)
Another form of intimidation is the use of direct threats. Parents may threaten a child with bodily harm. They may make threats to destroy something beloved to the child, such as a comfort item like a teddy bear or the child’s favorite toy. A parent may threaten to kill a beloved pet. They may make threats to commit suicide or kill themselves. They may threaten to injure the child’s other parent (more common in divorce cases, and more common in general than you might think) or even a sibling if their demands are not met.
Taunting or cat and mouse games
This involves placing rigid and/or unrealistic expectations before children that are accompanied by severe threats should a child fail to meet them. For example, telling a child they need to completely clean out and sweep the garage by 5:00 or they won’t get dinner, while knowing full well that it’s impossible for the child to complete the task on time.
The use of intimidation has several negative consequences. First, the child feels fearful and threatened while also feeling powerless and helpless; the same emotional combination that makes things like rape and assault so destructive for adults. They’ll tend to feel degraded by such tactics as well. But most of all, it establishes a bully atmosphere, in which the same despair, the same feelings of helplessness, the same resentment that is regarded a school-yard bully is brought into the child’s home environment.