“Stop whining, you sound like a baby!” Said a Mom to a little girl asking for a snack.
“Don’t cry. You are such a little girl.” Said a Dad to a little boy with tears in his eyes.
“Don’t be such a brat.” Said to the little girl pouting for a toy.
It is pretty clear to me why the incidence of bullying has increased so drastically in our schools recently. I’ve heard these same statements out of the mouths of children. They say it on the playground, cafeteria, and in the halls. The words are nasty even when taken out of context and without the nonverbal cues that come with them-angry scowls and mocking tones. Where do you think they learned to speak that way to others? Where did they learn to use that language? That tone? Once they get to school, the seed has been planted and often has taken root. It is there that as teachers we try to teach understanding, compassion, and empathy. We try to undo much of the damage that has been caused during those years that are so formative in a child’s development. We try to teach that name calling actually does hurt and compassion heals. But when a child goes home to parents and that example of bullying is further reinforced, all the bullying programs in the world won’t affect change in a child’s heart. If we want to see changes in our schools, we must first see changes in our homes. We must learn to parent not to bully.
I’ll be the first to admit, raising children is by far the most challenging, frustrating, and at times confusing thing I have ever done. There have been more times than I’d care to remember where I have been frustrated, angry, or just plain exhausted and have said things I didn’t mean or in a tone that was unnecessarily harsh. We all have been there. I’m willing to bet you use those moments, like I do, as a reminder to keep our tempers in check, even when we have been pushed to the brink. I’m NOT necessarily taking about those moments in reference to bullying. I’m talking about the true definition of bullying, the one talked about in school, repeated, unwanted behavior that is often aggressive and uses a perceived or real power imbalance. One of the key words in this definition is repeated. Losing your temper and resorting to this type of parenting once or twice, while hurtful, isn’t bully parenting.
It can be easy to confuse bullying and disciplining. We excuse talking to our children this way by saying we are disciplining them for doing something wrong. We don’t always hear the tones that come out of our mouths and we don’t hear the words we say. We get caught up in the moment and don’t realize the impact our words, tones, and name calling can have. Perhaps our children were whining for a toy, being overly dramatic about being told no, or having a temper tantrum when their request was denied. As parents, we know those behaviors are wrong and often require us to address them, but it is how we address them that make us parents or bullies.
- Disciplining unacceptable behaviors requires consistency, not name calling.
- Parenting requires a firm but loving hand, not abuse of power.
- Raising children to be patient and kind requires that we show patience, not aggression.
Just as God is patient and kind with us, so should we be with our children. God doesn’t berate and belittle us when we repeatedly make mistakes. He doesn’t call us babies when we are upset that things don’t go our way. He doesn’t tell us to stop wining when things don’t turn out the way we wanted them to. Even when we turn away from Him out of spite or hurt, He is always there to welcome us back. All these things are examples for us. He shows us how to be parents, not bullies.
To be clear, I’m not taking about emotional abuse, that is perhaps a more extreme example. I’m taking about being mindful of what we say and how we say it. We are parents and we need to act like it. Is it always easy? Of course not. But it is necessary. In our society, we need to seek to solve the issue of bullying at its root which is in the home instead of using our schools to try and undo a foundation that has already been set.
Which will you choose- to parent or to bully?