I read a very sad piece a few days ago, from Catherine at HerBadMother.com. Catherine’s nephew Tanner, who has Duchennes Muscular Dystrophy (a terminal illness which confines him to a wheelchair), is being bullied at school. Any bullying is awful, but there’s something particularly appalling about bullying a disabled – and dying – child which has me feeling sick to my stomach.
I started a post, and didn’t quite finish it, and shelved it (so it goes with the 37 pages of unfinished blog posts I have going right now), only to bring it back out in the light, after reading Catherine’s follow-up post, today whose title is aptly titled: Seriously, World. Because, seriously. Bullying a disabled child? And seriously? I can't believe she even had to write the follow up. It makes my heart hurt.
I’ve written about bullying before. It’s a matter which speaks to me personally – as I was bullied terribly as a child. Terribly, of course, is relative. To me, it was terrible. Any, ALL bullying is terrible.
But the thing that makes me so angry about bullying is this: It’s preventable. Reread: IT’S PREVENTABLE, people. World. Seriously. You just gotta treat people nicer.
In the vast, vast majority of cases, I’m going to venture a not-too-far-out guess: Children who bully are children who are bullied at home. And I don’t only mean parents who physically push around or verbally abuse their kids (though there are, unfortunately, plenty – too many – of those [of this, I also know personally]). But I mean also, the subtle bullying of a parent deciding NOT to put importance on her infant’s cries “he’s just doing that to manipulate me – he can cry it out in there, and learn to eat/sleep when I say it’s time to eat/sleep”. Or, bullying exhibit B: not honoring a toddler’s tantrum as a real expression of big feelings by a little person not big enough yet to understand how to verbalize those feelings in a socially appropriate way, as in: “he’s gonna stay in that time out all day ‘til he learns to obey me”. Or, a bullied-at-home child may be abused – physically, verbally, emotionally – as in spank, smack, “shut up”!
My take is this: Small injuries for little ones, when continually brushed off by parents (such as, “oh, you didn’t hurt yourself, you’re fine, stop crying about nothing”), comparisons (“at least your brother knows how to behave” or “you’ll never fit into your sister’s jeans, don’t even try”), or, bigger insults and useless, hurtful labels, (“you’re such a troublemaker” or ”you never listen” or “you’ll never be able to do it”) don’t just go away… they get buried, internalized, only to come to the surface when that child has the opportunity to respond in kind to another, smaller, child. The anger, the hurt, the belittlement – parents, people, world: think about what you’re saying and doing to your child. Think about how you interact with your children. Think about how you want them to face the world. What you say, how you treat your children? THAT is how they are likely treat others, or, how they are likely to be treated themselves (I’d like to take a moment to venture another not-too-far-out guess that if a less outgoing child has grown up in an environment where they are bullied, and it’s tolerated, even expected, they may continue to find themselves attracted to situations and relationships in which they are abused, ignored, harmed, and bullied.). It doesn’t just go away. Kids treat kids the way they are treated.
No one wants this for their child. No parent wants their child to be bullied. No parent wants their child to BE a bully. But we have a choice, parents. We parents can treat our children with kindness, respect, empathy. We don't have to bully or boss around our kids; we can empathize with them, guide them, help them gently on this path of life that's all new and un-jaded to them.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that a time-out at home or a parent who occasionally loses her temper equals a child who trips a kid & laughs about it on the playground. I’m not saying that every parent can or should even strive to parent perfectly.
What I AM saying is that if every parent would just aim to treat their children – treat EVERYONE – as they would want to be treated, this world would be a heck of a better, kinder, gentler, more forgiving place to be. Every bit of love you give you children, it comes back, tenfold. Every kind word, every gentle touch – they give it out to the world. You, parents, are the most important and powerful people in your children’s lives. Use your power to show them, through how you treat them, how they should treat the world.
Empathy. The golden rule. Treat your kids – as often as possible – as you’d want your best friend or partner or anyone to treat you, and you’re a step closer to making sure tragedies like Catherine describes, don’t happen.