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Why Bullying Your Child Hinders the Development of Executive Function Skills (peer-reviewed data)

Have you ever felt so frustrated with your child's school performance that you said something like, "Why can't you just be more like (insert sibling name here)!"


Or perhaps, because of their missing assignments and seeming lack of engagement with school, you've resorted to calling them "lazy" or "unmotivated"?


If so, drop the guilt, because we know you love your child.


BUT, do take this opportunity to reflect on parental bullying and how it impacts your child's executive function skills.


Children of parents who were frequently angry with their child and felt that their child bothered them a lot had more than double the odds of bullying perpetration.

Subtle forms of parental bullying that can have far-reaching consequences on your child's development, especially in the crucial area of executive function.


Even well-intentioned parents can slip into harmful patterns passed down from their own upbringing, eroding their child's self-esteem and sabotaging their ability to navigate life's challenges.


In this article, we'll explore how subtle forms of bullying, including being overbearing and making damaging comparisons, can significantly impact your child's emotional and cognitive growth.


Like Maya Angelou said, "When you know better, do better."


The study findings also revealed that children who complete their homework and whose parents share ideas and talk with them are less likely to be bullies.

Today, you have the chance to know better, so you can become aware of common pitfalls, break the cycle, and pave the way for your child's healthy development.


What is bullying?

Bullying is defined as intentional, repeated aggression perpetrated by a more powerful person or group on a less powerful victim.


What are examples of parental bullying?


Below, we will share three examples of what parental bullying might look like 👇


The Corrector

Instead of encouraging creativity, a mother who grew up in a home where grades were everything hovers over her child's shoulder as they do homework, often taking over to "correct" mistakes. The child learns to fear errors, stifling their natural curiosity and ability to problem-solve.

The Comparer

A father who was always in his older brother's shadow inadvertently keeps pitting his own children against each other. "Why can't you keep your room clean like your sister?" he asks, not realizing that he's fostering resentment and damaging both children's self-esteem.


The Represser

A woman raised by emotionally unavailable parents finds herself reflexively saying, "You're fine," when her child is upset, instead of offering a comforting hug or talking through the problem. Over time, her child stops seeking emotional support, impacting their ability to regulate emotions and build healthy relationships.


Most bullying from parental figures falls into one of two categories: overbearing behavior and comparing to peers.


Overbearing Behavior

Parents who are excessively controlling can harm their child's development of executive function skills. For example, demanding that a child finish all their homework immediately while threatening severe punishments leaves no room for the child to learn time management or decision-making.


Comparing to Peers

Constantly comparing a child to their peers can also be detrimental. Saying things like, "Look at Sarah, she's so accomplished. Why can't you be more like her?" undermines self-esteem and can hinder the growth of self-regulation and emotional control skills. These comparisons create unnecessary stress and make it difficult for children to develop a healthy sense of self.


What are the long-term impacts of bullying?

The impacts of bullying are far-reaching and highly detrimental. According to a study published in the National Libary of Medicine:

Bullies are more likely to experience depression, delinquency, and criminality as adults.3–6

And...


Victims have higher levels of chronic anxiety, depression, and psychosomatic complaints; lower self-esteem and poor psychosocial adjustment as adults;

Worse tho, bullies are at a greater risk of destructive behaviors that can hurt their community.

Bullies have a greater likelihood of perpetrating school shootings

What happens to a child who is bullied by their parents?


Over time, subtle comparisons can erode a child's self-esteem and inhibit their ability to develop important executive function skills like self-regulation and emotional control.


The child may also feel less motivated to take on responsibilities or try new things, fearing they won't measure up to their sibling. Kids who are bullied may end up bullying other kids because that is the way they learn how to express themselves.


These parents’ responses may reflect an overall pattern of negative interactions with their child, in which the child may model aggressive responses learned from the parents, which may translate into bullying.

How does executive dysfunction intersect with bullying?


Many bullies are kids who struggle with completing their homework, indicating that executive function challenges may lead to bullying behaviors if not appropriately addressed.

Of note, compared with nonbullies, bullies were less likely to always or usually complete all their homework.

Therefore, addressing executive function challenges through targeted interventions like coaching could be a key factor in reducing bullying behaviors, highlighting the interconnectedness of academic performance and social interactions.


How are perfectionism and bullying related?

The intersection of perfectionism and bullying, especially when it comes from parental figures, can create a detrimental cycle that hampers the development of executive function skills, particularly in children with ADHD.


Subtle forms of bullying, like comparing a child to a sibling, can instill a fear of failure and drive the child towards perfectionism. This mindset can be especially damaging for kids with ADHD, who may already struggle with executive function.


Instead of embracing challenges as opportunities for growth, they may avoid them altogether to dodge "failure," thus limiting their opportunities to develop crucial skills like self-regulation and emotional control.


Why do parents engage in bullying?

Parents may engage in bullying behavior for various reasons, often rooted in their own insecurities, stress, or unresolved emotional issues.


Some may believe that pressure and comparison will motivate their child to perform better, mistakingly equating harshness with love or discipline. Others might be projecting their own fears and failures onto their children. In some cases, it could also be a learned behavior from their own upbringing.


While the reasons may vary, the impact on the child's development, particularly in executive function skills, is generally negative.


For example, a mother who was constantly compared to her siblings growing up may unconsciously adopt the same behavior with her own children. She might say things like, "Your cousin Anna got straight A's; why can't you do the same?" without realizing the emotional toll it takes.


This mother may believe that she's encouraging competitiveness and high standards, as this was what was modeled for her in her own family. However, she may be unaware that she's perpetuating a cycle that can erode her child's self-esteem and hinder the development of executive function skills.

How can you reduce the bullying in your home?


Build a supportive community

A nurturing environment can make a world of difference when it comes to preventing bullying. Research indicates that nonbullies are more likely to come from neighborhoods where community support is strong.

Nonbullies were more likely to live in neighborhoods in which people were helpful, watched out for each other’s children, and could be counted on.

Creating a close-knit community where people are helpful and look out for each other's children can be a significant factor in reducing bullying tendencies in kids.


Show your child you value and appreciate them

Emotional factors can weigh heavily on a child's behavior, including the propensity for bullying. Parents' attitudes toward their children play a crucial role in shaping their actions.


Parents who always or usually felt angry with their child, felt that the child did things that bothered them a lot, felt that their child was much harder to care for than most other children, and had suboptimal maternal mental health had higher odds of bullying.

Parents who consistently show appreciation and value towards their children are less likely to foster bullying behaviors. Positive emotional support can help mitigate the risk of a child becoming a bully.


Connect with your child's friends

The company your child keeps can influence their behavior, including the likelihood of them engaging in bullying. Parental involvement in their social circle has been shown to be a determining factor.


Parents who had met all or most of their child’s friends and communicated very or somewhat well with their child had significantly lower adjusted odds of bullying.

Parents who take the time to meet and connect with their child's friends are significantly lowering the odds of their child becoming a bully. An open line of communication between parents and friends can serve as an essential preventive measure.


How can executive function coaching help reduce parental bullying?

Executive function coaching can play a significant role in reducing parental bullying. At EF Specialists, a cornerstone of our approach is the Family Team Meeting process.


This method is explicitly designed to enhance communication between parents and children, align expectations, and create a supportive system that alleviates school overwhelm and avoidance.


By fostering open dialogue and mutual understanding, we can help identify and dismantle harmful patterns of interaction, including subtle forms of bullying.


Through improved communication and aligned goals, parents can better support their children's development of essential executive function skills, ultimately creating a more harmonious family environment.


If you would like to learn more about how working with an executive function coach can transform your student's school experience, reduce parental frustration, and create a better family dynamic, reach out today to book your free consultation.


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About the author

Sean G. McCormick is the founder of Executive Function Specialists, an online coaching business that guides middle, high school, and college students in overcoming procrastination, disorganization and anxiety by teaching time management, prioritization, and communication skills so they feel motivated, prepared, and empowered. He also founded the Executive Function Coaching Academy which trains special education teachers, school psychologists and other professionals to support students with ADHD and executive function challenges. He lives in Petaluma with his wife and two daughters.

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EFS started with one teacher deciding that kids with ADHD needed better access to quality executive function coaching services. Since then, we have grown to a team of specialists working both private students and public schools to enhance executive function skills for all students. 

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