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Observable effects on children resulting from exposure to Hostile-Aggressive Parenting

November 2, 2010

Raising a child in a hostile-aggressive parenting environment is, without a doubt, one of the most serious forms of child abuse and maltreatment imaginable. The behaviors of HAP parents can seriously affect their children’s emotional, social, and intellectual development in many ways. To those with the knowledge to identify HAP, most children living under the influence of an HAP parent will exhibit some signs of being adversely affected. It must be emphasized that no specific behavior problem observed in a child can be assumed to indicate that the child has been abused in any particular manner or even abused at all. Some of the signs observed in children can be misleading to those without knowledge and experience in HAP to the point where outside third parties, even professionals who are unfamiliar with HAP, may be totally misled initially and in some cases misdiagnose the behaviors. In one case a child may be reacting in one way, yet another child will react in a totally opposite way.

Although HAP as a behavior is often looked as an issue affecting only the parents, by its very nature, HAP is a form of child abuse and neglect. Neuro-developmental research (Glaser, 2000; Schwarz and Perry, 1994) suggests that child abuse and neglect can affect brain development at critical and sensitive periods. Abuse and maltreatment of children through a parent’s HAP behaviors can have lasting effects on a child’s cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and interpersonal functioning (Glaser, 2000). HAP must be taken very seriously for it can significantly affect the child for his/her lifetime. The harm as a result of HAP can often be classified as Complex Post Traumatic Disorder with the same affect on the child as it does on an adult.

Below are some examples of the widely-varied indicators that may be observed in a child who is being adversely affected by Hostile-Aggressive Parenting:

In many cases, it is not unusual for a child to exhibit signs of affection and love towards a HAP parent at some times which can be very confusing to the occasional or untrained observer who may see the child showing affection to the HAP parent at some particular time. Psychologists have recognized for years that even children living under the care of abusive caregivers, often will have deep seated loyalties to those who may be physically and emotionally abusing them. Most children often long for the love and approval from their caregivers so it is not uncommon for a child who is being abused by an HAP parent to be seen showing affection at some times to their HAP parents. Where an HAP parent has been successful in alienating the child from another parent, the child may have the HAP parent as the only source of what the child perceives as love and affection. In reality, the behaviors of many HAP parents cause the child to develop an emotionally dependency on the HAP parent, which in itself is not healthy for the child. The presence of HAP is more precisely determined by analysis of the child’s overall behavior patterns and the overall parenting patterns of the HAP parent over a period of time and also reviewing the associated risk indicators.

Evaluating HAP can be very deceiving to unsuspecting observers, especially when children have been coached or have been made to have fears of their hostile-aggressive parent or guardian. Therefore, in order to provide greater accuracy in determining the presence of HAP and identifying who the perpetrator of the abuse is, it is important that conclusions be based on known behavior patterns of the child and parents/guardians over a period of time so that the behavior patterns of the HAP parent can be identified.

Note: Because the behaviors of children can be misleading if looked at in isolation, it is important that the observable effects on children as listed in this site be cross referenced with the known behavior patterns of the parents. For example, an HAP parent may complain about a child who is misbehaving and creating problems every time the child returns from the noncustodial parent’s home. The HAP parent will then claim that the child’s behavior is because of the influence of the non-custodial parent and then using this reasoning, may attempt to further restrict the child’s access to the non-custodial parent. Often, many professionals agree with this position without looking at the behaviors of the parent who is complaining and as a result great harm is done to the child. However, if the situation is carefully analyzed by looking at the behaviors of the parents and involved extended family members, it may be found that the HAP parent and his/her family has an extensive history of interference with the child’s relationship with the non-custodial parent.

These observable signs are affected by the age of the child and the intensity of the hostile-aggressive parent’s campaign. Sole custody and control of a child can be a significant barrier to the evaluation of HAP. A child is at greatest risk when sole custody of the child is in the hands of a parent who is hostile and aggressive to the other parent. Sole custody in the hands of such a person, when there would appear to be another caring parent available, is often nothing more than a license to emotionally abuse the child. A non-custodial parent, even if they may have tendencies towards HAP, are not in an position to influence a child to any great extent as the custodial parent can easily take steps to reinforce their control over the child and diminish the non-custodial parents influence over the child.

High levels of conflict and behavioral between the child and the custodial HAP parent. High levels of conflict between a child and the custodial parent, especially about parenting time and/or communication with the non-custodial parent, are almost always a sure sign that the custodial parent is an HAP parent. A determined child will often rebel against their custodial parent and create all kinds of problems when they feel that their natural wishes and desires to see or to communicate with their other parent are being interfered with by the HAP parent. This is a natural reaction which is often a result of the child’s frustration and a desire to have their wishes and preferences respected by the adults, especially the custodial parent.

Children, especially those above the age of 7 to 8 may begin to show anger directed at their custodial HAP parent. Children at this age begin to come out of their shell and begin to develop a greater ability to reason and to differentiate right behavior from wrong behavior. Children who are being adversely affected by a custodial parent’s Hostile-Aggressive Parenting, may at this age begin to start speaking of what it is that is bothering them and start challenging the authority of the HAP behaviors of their parents. They may become defiant and aggressive with the custodial parent, especially after they first go back to the custodial parent’s home after a visit with the noncustodial parent.

Children at this age often begin to see that what their custodial parent has led them to believe about their non-custodial parent is simply not true. They may become angry for being lied to by the HAP parent. Children when questioned, if they have not developed a fear or an emotional dependency of their custodial parent, will be able to speak out and clearly say what it is that is bothering them. In some situations, children may start to create incidents in an attempt to have their custodial parent get in trouble with authorities. Left unresolved, often these conflicts will turn to physical altercations between the child and the custodial parent and/or other family members who support the custodial parent. Boyfriends and girlfriends of HAP parents sometimes get involved and assist the HAP parent to discipline the child without fully understanding the previous history.

Unfortunately, most HAP parents, of course, will claim that the conflict between themselves and the child is caused by the non-custodial parent and will not admit that it is their own HAP behavior that is causing their child to behave in this manner.

Child runs away from the home of the custodial HAP parent or may refuse to return to the home of the HAP parent. Another sure sign that a child is being exposed to the influences of an HAP parent is when the child runs away from the custodial parent’s home and seeks shelter at the home of the non-custodial parent. A child who is having their physical and emotional needs met by a custodial parent has no need to run to another home as the custodial parent has all the power and control to protect them from any sort of negative influence affecting the child. In almost all cases, a child who runs from a custodial parent is sending the message that something is seriously wrong with the environment at the custodial parent’s home.

Sometimes the child may refuse to return to the custodial parent’s home and do such things as refuse to get out of the car when dropped back at the home of the custodial parent. Some children may put up a violent struggle and kick and scream and literally have to be forced into the control of the custodial parent. This can be very damaging to the child. Running away from an HAP parent’s home is one of the first symptoms of what can be referred to as “reverse parental alienation” where the child begins to develop a distain or even hatred of the HAP parent because the child’s wishes are not being listened to.

Child may exhibit a number of behavioral problems. Children exposed to Hostile-Aggressive Parenting likely will demonstrate a number of behavioral problems ranging from minor to serious as a result of their exposure to HAP. These problems may be observable at school, in the home and in the community. Some studies have shown that as much as 85% of children with behavioral problems come from single parent (usually fatherless) homes. Behavior problems associated with children of separation and divorce generally are the result of two contributing factors, both of which are closely connected to HAP parenting.

(1) Behavior problems learnt from child’s exposure to HAP environment.
When children observe their HAP parent acting in an anti-social and aggressive manner over an extended period of time they often pick up on a number of these behaviors and over time, consider them to be socially acceptable. Children are a product of their environment and do learn what they live. Children living under the influence of a hostile-aggressive parent may become themselves, selfish, self centered and have growing anger management difficulties as years pass on. Children who are being physically abused or yelled at constantly by a HAP parent will begin to deal with their own problems in the same manner, often lashing verbally and physically at siblings or schoolmates. Many of these negative behaviors are often observable at the child’s school. HAP behaviors picked up by a child from the HAP parent will, in many cases, seriously affect a child’s development and interfere with their ability to lead a normal and balanced life. Some professionals may misdiagnose the child as having a conduct disorder and prescribe medication but, in reality, these professionals fail to realize that the child’s own parent is instilling these types of negative and anti-social behaviors into the child.

Some young children who exhibit behavioral problems as a result of exposure to HAP parents do improve over the years. However, at least half or more get worse. Older children often develop a hostile, aggressive attitude as well as being disobedient and defiant to parents and authorities. Often these children get involved in more violent physical fights and may start to use weapons. They may steal or lie, without any sign of remorse or guilt when they are found out. They refuse to follow rules and may start to break the law. Teenagers exposed to the influences of an HAP parent start to manipulate the parents so that they can get anything they want. Remember, when children witness their HAP parent lie and deceive people and get away with it, then the child may develop the same attitude that if their parent can get away with it, then they can too.

Often, the parent who may have practiced HAP parenting when the child was younger, now find themselves held hostage to a child terrorist. HAP parents, fearful that the child may leave them and go to the other parent if they don’t get their way, often fall prey by letting the child set their own limits. The fear of losing child support payment, alone, is enough to make a parent ignore good parenting just to maintain their legal control over the child. Many of these affected children get involved in criminal activities. They may steal cars, break into houses or shoplift. They may take risks with their health and safety by taking illegal drugs or having unprotected sexual intercourse.

Children are less likely to act out aggressively when their parents use more effective parenting techniques than those who rely on hostile-aggressive techniques such as reacting to their child’s wishes to have a reasonable relationship with their other parent with anger, and using negative rather than positive reinforcement to the child’s relationship with the other parent.

(2) Behavioral problems caused by child’s unresolved anger and frustration from living under the control of an HAP parent
Some children develop behavior problems as a result of unresolved anger and frustration because of being forced to live under the control of a hostile and controlling parent. Too often, family courts place custody of the child in the hands of the wrong parent who is often the HAP parent. Too often, the non-custodial parent is rendered helpless to assist the children and placed fully under the control of the custodial HAP parent. Children become angry and frustrated by the efforts of the HAP parent to further interfere with their relationship with the non-custodial parent. This anger and frustration develops into severe behavior problems which affect them at school and at home. Behavioral problems caused by frustration and anger can only be effectively addressed when the children’s wishes and preferences are considered and the children provided the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship with their non-custodial parent.

Anxiety. From an early age, children need security and safety. A young child who does not feel safe and is exposed to the behaviors of a hostile-aggressive parent may have significantly elevated levels of anxiety. This might show up in simple nervous behaviors (habits such as twirling hair or biting nails) or actually be seen in the development of phobias, panic disorders, and obsessive/compulsive disorders. The anxiety that the child exhibits may be associated with a particular person or environment, or it may be more generalized with the child constantly feeling on edge or irritable. Children may be afraid to talk about summer holidays or about future parenting periods for fear of saying something that may offend the custodial HAP parent. Young children often use avoidance to cope with this kind of anxiety or develop other symptoms such as nightmares, bed wetting, or physiological symptoms such as headaches or stomach distress.

May be overly quiet and reserved. A child who is living under the primary control of a hostile-aggressive parent is often threatened with punishment if they say something about the parent’s Hostile-Aggressive Parenting. To protect themselves from retribution by the HAP parent, children may become quiet, reserved and afraid to speak out about the HAP parent. The child will find that by saying nothing, even if it means hiding abuse against them, keeps them out of further trouble with their hostile-aggressive parent. This type of behavior is not uncommon with children under 12 years of age. Children raised in this kind of environment often grow up lacking in self esteem and confidence and unable to compete in the working world.

Emotional avoidance – defensive or fearful when questioned about the hostile-aggressive parent’s behavior. Emotional avoidance in the context of trauma caused by HAP refers to a child’s tendency to avoid thinking or having feelings about the trauma he/she has suffering as a result of HAP. A child who is being emotionally abused by the HAP parent may often suppress thoughts about the abuse or maltreatment by saying that he/she can’t remember.

Sometimes their body language will give these kids away. When questioned during an interview about the HAP parent, they may squirm, become easily distracted or use phrases such as “I don’t know” or “I want to go now” or “I don’t remember” or “I don’t want to talk about it”. Some children may forget things that the HAP parent has done that other children or witnesses can clearly recall. Children under the primary care and control of a hostile-aggressive parent will often learn to say what the hostile-aggressive parent wishes them to say while they hide the truth as well as their real feelings. These children know that their HAP parent is trying to hide the truth and that the child may be punished for telling the truth to others. Sometimes it is only the body language of these children that will give them away during an interview.

However, although a child’s desire to turn his/her attention away from painful thoughts and feelings is completely natural, research indicates that the more people avoid their thoughts and feelings about difficult situations in life, the more their distress seems to increase and the less likely the child is to be able to move on with his/her life.

Bed wetting and sleep disorders. Some children adversely affected by HAP parents may suffer from enuresis (bed wetting) with some affected children known to have wet their beds well beyond the time when most children are toilet trained. Some children abused by HAP parents have reported to have been still wetting their bed even as old as eight or nine years of age.

May express to their teacher, a desire to share their school related work with their non-custodial parent or to ask for help contact the other parent. Teachers at school, especially elementary school, may be faced with situations that they find strange when dealing with children being affected by a Hostile-Aggressive Parent. Some of these situations may include:

  • The child may tell the teacher that they would like to take their work from school to their non-custodial parent. The child may even ask to keep the work at school in order to get it directly to the non-custodial parent. They may not want their custodial parent to know about this. Children in this situation are wanting to share their accomplishments at school with their non-custodial parent. Hostile-aggressive parents often will not share a child’s work with the other parent and quite often will destroy it out of spite.
  • The child may tell the teacher that they don’t want a particular parent to be at the school.
  • The child may ask school staff for help to use the phone to call their non-custodial parent.
  • Drawings or notes may reveal the child’s hidden feelings such as unhappiness, anger at one or both parents, wishes to live with one parent, etc.

The child may disclose information to third parties about the behaviors of the HAP parent. A child may reveal to third parties such as teachers and other family members, specific details of some Hostile-Aggressive Parenting behaviors they have been exposed to. Children will usually have the courage to speak up between the ages of 7 to 14 years of age with a number of factors influencing when a particular child may begin to speak up. Some of the most common things that children may speak out about may include such things as one parent saying bad things about the other parent or not being able to call the other parent on the phone. The child may even tell third parties that they want to live with their other parent, rather than the one they live with now. This is a sign that the child is reaching out for help from others and has not developed a total fear of the hostile-aggressive parent as of yet. This situation must be handled delicately so as not to place the child at greater risk of abuse at the hand of the hostile-aggressive parent. In most cases, the hostileaggressive parent may punish the child for exposing things that the hostile-aggressive parent was trying to keep a secret. Third parties must demonstrate that the child can trust them by not turning them back into the clutches of the HAP parent.

The child may show greater affection to a parent/guardian contrary to the claims of the hostile-aggressive parent. Hostile-aggressive parents will often attempt to paint a bad picture of the other parent/guardian to everyone they know so that they can turn others against that other person, often as part of a strategy to isolate that person from others in the community and to solicit the support of others to help isolate the child from the other parent. This strategy is most often used by custodial parents to turn school officials and babysitters against the non-custodial parent. Hostile-aggressive parents will often say that the child’s relationship with the other parent is not good and that the child does better when he/she does not have contact with the other parent. This strategy is usually used when children are younger as it becomes more difficult for the HAP to continue these lies as the child becomes more aware which is usually above the age of 7 years of age. However, when given the opportunity to see the child and the other parent together, many in the community find that the child and the other parent enjoy a loving relationship together, contrary to what they were told by the HAP parent.

The child may indicate fear of reprisal of a parent for disclosing information. A child who lives in a safe and secure environment, should never have a fear of telling the truth to anyone about his/her living and or parenting environment. Should a child express a fear for their physical or emotional safety and indicate that they are fearful of one parent knowing about them disclosing information, then this is another supporting sign that the parent who the child is afraid of is an HAP parent.

The child may show excessive animosity/fear/hate towards the non-custodial parent. In some severe cases of Hostile-Aggressive Parenting, the hostile-aggressive parent may have been successful in implanting Parental Alienation in the child to the point where the child may express severe animosity, fear or even hate towards the non-custodial parent. In some cases, children will literally run away or hide should they accidentally meet the alienated parent in public such as on a street or in a store.

This reaction in children can be very misleading to those without knowledge of parental alienation and the brainwashing of children by hostile-aggressive parents. To those without knowledge, it could lead them to believe that the non-custodial parent is actually a bad parent or has abused the child.

Persons who witness a child, especially a young child speak very badly of another parent should consider the possibility that the child may be the victim of brainwashing. It is not normal for ANY child to express strong animosity toward a parent without very clear and understandable reasons. Should the child’s animosity be directed towards a non-custodial parent, then this is usually further evidence that the custodial parent may be responsible for the child’s hate of the other parent. When children are carefully questioned however for details of why they hate their parent so much, that is when the truth usually starts to become apparent. Seldom can children provide specifics to why they feel the way they do and only given general statements such as “ he/she used to hit me” or “he/she was mean to me” Parental alienation can be suspected when interviewers start to ask for specifics and the child’s recollection is vague or inconsistent. The pattern of the parent’s behaviors may also help one to determine if the child’s reaction is justified or if this behavior has been implanted in the child by the custodial parent.

The child’s personality may change when the hostile-aggressive parent is present. A change in the child’s personality toward one parent may be noticed when the child is in the presence of both parents. Such a situation may occur at a school function where both parents attend. Persons may notice that the child is very affectionate with one parent such as holding hands and appearing excited and happy. As soon as the hostile-aggressive parent comes on the scene, the child will suddenly stop showing their affection to the other parent. The child recognizes the power that the custodial parent wields over them and in order to protect themselves, the child will hide the affection they would normally give to the non-custodial parent because they know the custodial parent will disapprove of this and may become angry.

May self inflict injuries or exhibit suicidal tendencies. It has been reported that children have committed suicide while living under the influence of an HAP parent. A small number of children become so depressed and distraught about not being able to have a meaningful relationship with their other parent that they end up taking their own lives. Some children may cause physical injury to themselves such as cutting or burning themselves. The presence of HAP parenting in any household affected by divorce and/or separation must be carefully looked at whenever children show symptoms of hurting themselves or have thoughts of doing so. Often these children are diagnosed by professionals as being suicidal, yet in many cases professionals are unable to relate the child’s suicidal thoughts to the behaviors of the HAP parent because in many cases the HAP parent is able to appear to the professional as being a wonderful and caring parent.

The child may produce notes and drawings indicating sadness living with the HAP parent or indicating a desire to live with the non-custodial parent. Children adversely affected by an HAP parent may sometimes make drawings or write notes where they express their sadness about the way they are being treated by an HAP parent. Sometimes they will write that they wished they were living with their other parent.

May show aggression towards the custodial parent especially at times just after returning back from parenting time with the non-custodial parent. A common reaction seen in children living in the care of a HAP custodial parent is that the child may exhibit anger and hostility towards the custodial parent when they return from the noncustodial parent’s home. This, in a sense, is one of the symptoms of reverse parental alienation where the child begins to develop a distain or even a hatred of the HAP parent. Some children may fight, kick, spit and break things upon their return and generally be uncooperative with the custodial parent. These children become angry because of being forced back into the care of a parent who they know is not as nice as the other parent. Often this reaction is caused because the child does not get to spend enough time with the non-custodial parent as the custodial parent will often do everything they can to keep time with the non-custodial parent to a bare minimum.

What is important to note is that in many cases, the HAP parent will claim that the aggression by the child is caused by the non-custodial parent. The HAP parent will often report that this aggressive behavior is happening when the child returns or during the days following the child’s return from the other parent’s home. The HAP parent, knowing that it is difficult to hide the children’s behavioral problems blame the cause on the other parent in an attempt to hide their own abuse of the child. Often blaming the other parent is part of a well thought out strategy to get the court to further restrict the child’s time with the non-custodial parent and to further. Ultimately, this only makes the child even angrier at the custodial parent.

May show signs of physical abuse. In addition to the personality related observations, children who may be physically abused by an HAP parent may exhibit a number of physical injuries such as bruises or welts on their body or face, burns, bone fractures, etc.

May lack self esteem and confidence. A child’s sense of self can be negatively impacted when living under the control of an HAP parent. Levels of self-esteem (a child’s positive view of him or herself) and appropriate self-confidence (a child’s realistic view of their capabilities) are crucial to the ongoing psychological development and well-being of a child. When a parent or guardian assaults the child’s self-esteem using hostileaggressive behaviors, often this will negatively impact the child’s developmental progress. When a child has an impaired sense of self or a reduced sense of self-esteem, they are often unable to cope with situations in which there is increased stress. Exposure to HAP during developmental years can also have an impact when children need to separate or become independent from others in later years. The child may be subject to separation anxiety disorder at a later time in life. Later in the child’s development the child may have difficulty in defining his/her own boundaries or appreciating the needs and desires of others in their environment. In addition, children raised in an environment where he/she is being exposed to hostile-aggressive parenting may lack adequate self-protectiveness and may at greater risk of being victimized or exploited by others.

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