In Part One of this series, we learned that the structure of the family that a child grows up in could have a direct effect on how they connect to the rest of the world.  It is the place where a child begins developing their self-image and their image of the world outside their family home.

The first type of family structure we learned about is The Brick Wall Family. Brick Wall families are held together by strict parental controls that direct all the family activities.

If you still need to read about The Brick Wall Family, click here and it will take you directly to Part One.

Today, we are learning about what bullying expert, Barbara Coloroso, calls The Jellyfish Family.  In contrast to The Brick Wall Family, The Jellyfish Family operates in a permissive, laissez-faire kind of environment.  The environment is unstable at best.  Children are smothered on one day and abandoned the next.  They are manipulated with a series of bribes, rewards and then threats and harsh punishment.

There are two types of jellyfish families that you need to know about.

The first type of jellyfish parent doesn’t know how to set limits and is lax in discipline. They tend to smother their children have difficulty distinguishing between what the children need and what they want. They confuse their unmet needs with the needs of their children.

These Jellyfish parents tend to become entangled in their children’s lives.  They try to rescue their children from adversity and smooth out problems when they arise.  Research has shown that children who are consistently rescued by their parents are more vulnerable to bully behavior and more willing to give in to a bully’s demands. 

Parents who regularly rush in to help are sending a message to their children that they do not believe that their child is capable of resolving their own problems.  Of course, there are definitely times when a parent or other adult.  The challenge is in the way a Jellyfish parent intervenes.

In The Jellyfish Family, there is no structure in the most important times of the day such as mealtime, bedtime and chore time.  The lack of structure often leads to chaos and that is when problems begin.  Parents become frustrated and tun to the only parenting techniques they know-bribes, threats and punishment.  When the chaos passes and calm prevails, then the Jellyfish parent apologizes over and over and tries to alleviate the guilt they feel by bribing the children.

When parents vacillate between punishment and bribing, the children become confused and they lose any sense of who they are or what they are capable of doing.  They seek comfort, support, consistency and a sense of belonging from anyone who will listen…including bullies, gangs and cults.

The second type of Jellyfish parent physically or psychologically abandons their children.  This forces the children to fend for themselves.  In most cases, the parent is experiencing personal problems that require that they focus on themselves.  They may be incapable of caring for the children.  They may provide material things for the children, but there is a lack of nurturing or encouragement.

Children develop a sense of hopelessness and a belief that whatever they need, they will have to get it themselves.  They believe that there is no one that they can count on.  The children begin to mistrust people.  When their needs have been ignored, they may resort to lying and manipulation to get their needs met.

There are five characteristics of the Jellyfish family that contribute to the cycle of bullying and other violence:

Punishments and rewards are arbitrary and inconsistent.  Home is not a safe place and adults are not to be trusted.  There are not always consequences for negative behavior, so they learn to take a chance that they won’t get caught.

Second chances are arbitrarily given.  Children are not consistently held accountable for mistakes or bad behavior. This inconsistency encroaches on the child’s development of a strong sense of responsibility for their own actions.

Threats and bribes are common and frequent.  Children learn ways to avoid getting caught and ways to get caught doing good.  They learn to “work the system”.  They don’t learn how to get their own needs met except through manipulation.  They don’t develop the skills to be a good friend.  These skills are a major way to fend off bullying.

Emotions rule the behavior of both parents and children.  They act without thought to the consequences or alternative responses.  It is difficult for children to develop their own personal moral code or self-control.  Children are not taught to identify their own feelings and don’t learn how to responsibly express their feelings.  They don’t develop the social skills or the confidence they need to stand up to bullying.

Love is highly conditional.  Children must please their parents in order to get affection.  Recognition and affection must be earned.  Children learn to depend on others to affirm their worthiness.

Children may survive life in a Jellyfish Family, but they rarely thrive.  Children need healthy boundaries and guidelines.  They need a stable environment that is conducive to creativity, compassion and a network of support.

We hope that you are enjoying our series and have found this information useful. If you are ready to learn more about what you can do to create more positive, balanced home for your family, check out our latest e-book called “Bullyproof”.  It’s full of ideas on how you can take small steps to empower your child to stand up to bullies, to keep the lines of communication open and to help your child to become more empathetic and compassionate.

Subscribe to our email list at the end of this post and you’ll get the free e-book delivered to your inbox.  Then you will be notified when new blog posts are published, receive our newsletters and monthly Random Acts of Kindness Calendar plus other helpful information about bullying.

If you are interested in receiving information about our parent and/or student classes, have any questions or just need a place to vent, send us a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

Join us next week for Part 3 of our series when we talk about The Backbone Family.