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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

For Parents: Hitting Dad?!

July 22, 2008

I was in the mall yesterday doing research on the way teen girls interact with their friends when shopping on their own.  During a lunch break, I noticed a dad with his 5 year old son at the counter of an eatery. While Dad attempted to order lunch, the little boy repeatedly punched and slapped his father. As I watched (cringing) it struck me that the kid was neither angry or frustrated.  He appeared to be enjoying this very funny game.  

Dad’s response alternated amongst three modes:  First he ignored the aggression. When the boy continued the abuse, Dad turned to his son and said with absolutely no conviction, “Now you stop that.” When that response only set the kid to giggling and continue swinging at Dad (and connecting), Dad one-handedly held on to both of the boy’s hands and kinda smile and laughed and then showed his son an exaggerated mock “I’m angry now” face. At that point Junior laughed harder and began kicking Dad! At that point Dad went back to ignoring his son again.

For a parent who’d probably say he’d like his son to treat him with respect, this father was transmitting some really screwed up messages. In the mind of a five year old, here’s how Dad’s response was interpreted: “Daddy doesn’t mind this behavior.  In fact, I think he kinda likes when I do this. Looks like he’s having fun.  I sure am!  I’m gonna keep it up.”

We’ve all seen examples of how a parent’s response to their child’s disrespect only encourages more of the same.  When it’s with unruly young children (and yours are teens or older) we’re quick to mentally note, “Bad parenting! Do something, you doormat! Don’t let your kid step on you like that.”

But when we’re faced with a rude and disrespectful teen or tween, we are not always so good at avoiding “doormatism.”

Sometimes we try to be “the good parent” to our teens by choosing not to yell when they are rude to us. That’s good strategy. It keeps our emotions in check so that we can think more clearly and parent more effectively.  But completely ignoring a teen’s rudeness (sarcasm, attitude, put-downs, eye-rolling, etc.) or responding to rudeness in a half-hearted way, you only send the message that this is acceptable behavior.  Exactly the message sent by that Dad in the mall. Problem is, that message is a flat-out lie that’s going to come back and bite you again and again and again.

Your comments?

Filed under: Parenting — Tags: , — Annie @ 6:13 pm


  1. When I see this stuff I wish I was an old gray haired woman with much more tack and a sweet face and could go up and say “seems you both need limits and to use your words”… Dad is doing ALL a disservice trying to be his friend and not setting limits as a parent should.

    Comment by carolyn — July 31, 2008 @ 10:05 am

  2. You’re so right when you say Dad is doing “ALL a disservice” by his response to his son. The kid is personally learning nothing positive. He is likely to take those negative lessons into his friendships with other kids. If he doesn’t get some re-education, there’s a good chance that as a teen, he may take the same lessons into romantic relationships and eventually into his relationships with his own children!

    Comment by Annie — July 31, 2008 @ 10:19 am

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by linda gordon. linda gordon said: This issue is a tough one- RT @Annie_Fox: #Parenting What do you do when your kids or teens get aggressive with you? […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention For Parents: Hitting Dad?! | Annie Fox's Blog -- — October 5, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

  4. Thanks for posting this. I watched a young man (in junior high) repeatedly flip a dirty t-shirt into his mother’s face during a meeting with school staff members. Mom ignored him. As the mother of 4 and grandmother of 2, I couldn’t take it any longer, so I got up, yanked it out of his hand, opened my office door, and threw it out into the hall.

    Parents need to learn that nothing gets better when you ignore it. Nothing!

    Comment by Lynn Parsons — June 16, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

  5. Thank your for addressing this issue. I have seven children ranging in age between 18-8 and I have not ever had to tell my children to not hit me or my husband. Some of my children are more of a challenge when dealing with their own emotions, some have been immature in social development, as a result, I am not coming from a judgemental place. I owever, my firm belief that parents that choose to be irresponsible in in teaching their children healthy respectful boundaries are not respecting themselves. My question would be how could they then model appropriate behaviour and concequences to their children? Perhaps the father is so disconnected to what his child needs, he may not have the skillset to handle this obvious ongoing abuse. If my child hit a peer or demeaned another person we had a very simple conversation. I asked how they would feel if momma demeaned them? How would they feel if momma allowed someone, peer or adult to hit them? Allowing children to hit anyone..especially a loving family member leads to o a very serious concequence’s. It will be so difficult when they become a teenager..(Which is hard enough) to guide and keep them safe. My last thought is where did this child learn to hit in the first place?
    I hope this dad participate’s in the difficult parenting issue’s rather than ‘unplug’ or be passive until it’s too late! The positive aspect is that we all make mistake’s however, acknowledging them is the first step to learning and growing emotionally to raise a healthy child. Good luck to this parent!

    Comment by Honoure Stark — January 23, 2012 @ 9:43 pm

  6. It´s a great problem for parents.

    Comment by islandia Oliveira — January 27, 2012 @ 6:00 am

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