I don’t think it’s a big secret to most people that the type of discipline you use in your parenting can have a dramatic effect on your child’s development.

In general, most researchers recognize four main types of parenting styles, and each parenting style uses a different approach to discipline. These four primary styles include authoritarian parenting, authoritative parenting, permissive parenting, and uninvolved (or neglectful) parenting. There is another style of parenting, however, that many people aren’t aware of: Hostile Aggressive Parenting (HAP).

Have you ever heard of it? Most of those who do have knowledge of HAP will tell you that they wish they didn’t because it’s frequently deeply connected with parental alienation. Is it possible that you’re an offender and don’t realize it? Or maybe you know someone guilty of practicing this type of parenting. High conflict families come from ALL socio-economic statuses, as does HAP. Spousal conflict is normal and an expected part of divorce. However, when one or both parents allow the conflict to become excessive, the impact on the children is harmful and destructive.

The inabilty of the parents (or caregivers) to contain and manage their conflict, for the benefit of the children, is an expression of psychological immaturity on one or both parents and shows an inabiity to manage and regulate one’s own emotions. It also represents a profound failure of parental empathy for the kids’ experience.

So, what exactly is Hostile Aggressive Parenting (HAP)?

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Hostile Aggressive Parenting, which you’ll often find shortened to HAP, is most commonly defined as “a general pattern of behavior, manipulation, actions or decision-making of a person (usually a parent or guardian) that either directly or indirectly:
  1. Creates undue difficulties and interference in the relationship of a child with another person (usually a parent or guardian) involved with the parenting and/or rearing the child and/or,
  2. Promotes or maintains an unwarranted unfairness or inequality in the parenting arrangements between a child’s parents and/or guardians and/or,
  3. Promotes ongoing and unnecessary conflict between parents and/or guardians which adversely affects the parenting, well-being and rearing of a child.”
HAP is not limited to just biological parents. Grandparents, step-parents, and other child guardians can also exhibit this type of parenting style. Hostile Aggressive Parenting is considered to be a very serious and damaging form of abuse and maltreatment – contrary to what is in the best interest of any child. The overall goal of HAP is to SEVERELY DAMAGE a child’s relationship with his or her other parent of to GET THEM COMPLETELY OUT of the child’s life.
photo courtesy of pixabay.com
Hostile Aggressive Parenting may be seen in cases of high-conflict custody; it is also frequently found in cases of parental alienation. Please note, however, the presence of HAP does not always mean that the existence of parental alienation exists in a case. While this type of parenting may present as a precursor to incidences of parental alienation, it’s incorrect to assume that HAP’s presence guarantees without a doubt that parental alienation is also occurring.
Before we continue, consider looking at the below symptoms as though they set on a continuum. Some things, by themselves anyway, may not seem so bad, while other symptoms are quite extreme. When you lump a number of these experiences together, however, there is most definitely a problem.
  • Badmouthing the other parent in front of the child
  • Interfering with phone communication between the child and the other parent (this can include saying things like, “My phone wasn’t charged when you called,” and other excuses)
  • Not letting the child speak for themselves, never actually hearing anything from the child, only from the “campaigning” parent
  • Undermining the other parent’s authority
  • Playing on the child’s feelings of guilt and sympathy
  • Being very uncooperative when making summer and holiday schedules (or any type of scheduling)
  • Intentionally not involving the other parent in school/daycare (such as not giving the other parent school information or signing the child up for something without telling the other parent)
  • Choosing a third party over the other parent to care for the child in instances where one cannot care for the child him or herself (e.g., refusing to let the other parent care for the child when you have to work and instead choosing to have a neighbor or babysitter care for them instead, even though the other parent is willing, capable, and available) – Please note that this situation does not necessarily apply so much to having willing extended relatives, such as grandparents, watch the child during such a time.
  • Refusing to be flexible (e.g., “I said 4:00, not 4:15!”)
  • Discarding or selling gifts given to the child by the other parent
  • Refusing to participate in activities that the other parent is attending
  • Refusing to meet with the other parent and other professionals
  • Threatening the child with the loss of their love (This may not be said out loud, but it is exhibited by the child getting rewarded for disdain shown toward the other parent.)
  • Having the child spy on the other parent
  • Creating conflict with the child once he returns to their home and then laying blame on the other parent (saying the child’s upset behavior is due to the visitation)
  • Openly violating court orders
  • Fabricating false physical or sexual abuse allegations
  • Not allowing the child communication with the other parent, even on special occasions
  • Speaking negatively about the other parent to the child’s friends, those parents, coaches, schools, etc.
  • Changing the child’s last name
  • Having the child call the other parent by their first name
  • Intense verbal/physical abuse toward the other parent, in front of the child
  • Abduction
  • Rejecting mail from the other parent
  • Interrogating the child after their time with the other parent
  • Encouraging the child to write a nasty letter to the other parent (or even to the judge)
  • Encouraging the child to engage in criminal activity (such as stealing something from the other parent)
  • Instigating and promoting a campaign of denigration against the other parent (“I’m going to destroy you at all costs.”)


And how does this affect the child victims?

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Possible Long-Term Effects of HAP on Children

  • Depression
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
  • Acting out
  • Manipulation
  • Grades decline
  • Physical/somatic complaints
  • Unable to resolve future conflict
  • Difficulties with future relationships
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Lying
  • Fear
  • Inattention
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Peer conflict
  • Truancy


Is there help for these parents and caregivers?

The good news? Yes. The bad news? It can be difficult to convince a parent or caregiver who exhibits this type of parenting style to engage in the help that’s out there.
One very helpful strategy to help these parents (or other caregivers) is to participate in what’s called “co-parenting sessions” with the other parent. In co-parenting sessions, a trained counselor can help the parents/caregivers resolve entrenched parental conflict. A skilled counselor will address and confront underlying issues such as grief, anger, revenge, and parental manipulation. They can teach self-care and resilience strategies to both parties, as well as non-hostile communication skills and conflict resolution strategies. In other words, they teach HEALTHY co-parenting techniques.
It’s important that parents and caregivers who are interested in co-parenting sessions find a trained and skilled Co-Parenting Counselor or a Parenting Coordinator. Often practicing something called family restructuring therapy or other family-focused interventions, these people are trained to best collaborate with caregivers as well as with outside systems such as attorneys, schools, social services, etc. Co-Parenting Counselors and Parent Coordinators are excellent alternative dispute resolution specialists who can help co-parents (and/or others) resolve conflict outside of courtroom. They are experienced in assisting with high conflict family cases. They also work directly with the children, to help identify what really is in their best interest.
Working with parents and caregivers who exhibit HAP requires patience. There are no quick fixes. Absent abuse or neglect or other extenuating factors, Co-Parenting Counselors and Parenting Coordinators assume that kids should have contact with BOTH PARENTS.
Want more information on HAP and parent coordination/co-parenting counseling?
Check these out; they’re amazing resources:
Hostile Aggressive Parenting – http://hostile-aggressive-parenting.com
Association of Family & Conciliation Courts – www.afccnet.org