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    Bullying and Messages We Send Our Children

    The other day Adam & I found ourselves in a discussion of school and bullying. By the end of the conversation, I found myself choked up over flashbacks from my middle school experience (yes…things that happened 25 years ago).  I do consider myself a balanced person, yet, the intense discussions brought back memories, which, when placed in the context of my own children – the eldest of whom has entered “elementary/1st grade” now – are even more important and poignant now.  And then, today, I read this post on Amber Strocel’s blog about her experience at her daughter’s school – seeing a young child only 9 or 10 – already being ostracized by her peers.  It broke my heart, and made me realize I needed to write this post.

    I don’t want my children to experience anything like I experienced (and I know some children experience far worse than I did) in school. No child should have to be terrified of going to school because of continual ridiculing, shaming, teasing, threats, shunning, or physical abuse by other students. Being the victim of bullying is NOT – as some may say – an experience everyone “has to” go through; it is NOT required to build character. It does nothing but interfere with the main reason children are in school – to develop a love of learning. If a child can’t get through the day without fear, without trying desperately to fit in, or stay out of harms way, she can’t possibly learn. There’s no character building happening there.  There’s only survival.  And why should young children have to just survive, when they should be able to thrive? School should be a wonderful, safe, exciting, and happy place not a frightening or dangerous one.


    So what can a parent do? Certainly good, open, frequent communication with your children’s teachers is integral. But teachers can’t be expected to intimately know each child and their place on the “social ladder”; nor can they be everywhere at once. I believe that avoiding being bullied – and being the bully – starts at home, with peaceful, connected parenting.


    As parents, we have to be aware of the messages (hidden or overt) we are sending our children, every day.  Do we use gentle words to guide our children, or harsh words to control our children? Are we negative in our observations of ourselves and the people around us? Or are we positive & uplifting?  Do we talk about other people behind their back? Or do we keep unkind words to ourselves? Do we make comments under our breath when we step on the scale or look in the mirror? Or do we celebrate our bodies and the good health with which we are blessed? Do we point out differences between people in a judgmental way? Or are we inclusive and celebratory of differences? Do we have friends of different colors, life experiences, abilities? Or do all of our friends look, act, and sound the same? When we meet people do we immediately focus on what they are wearing or how they look? Or do we ask instead how they are doing and what they’ve been up to? Do we praise and encourage our children for expressing themselves and making their own choices – even if those choices go against the grain? Or do we say things like, “You shouldn’t wear/do/say that because people might look at you”? Do we embrace our children with love and understanding, even when they’ve been misbehaving? Do we do the same for ourselves and our partners?


    The way we speak, the way we interact, the way we live our lives has more effect on our children than any external experiences**. The self esteem we instill in our children by loving them unconditionally, by showing empathy and compassion and understanding of those with differences, gives them a base of righteousness, from which to can pull from, even in the face of great adversity.


    I believe that if all parents would treat their children with respect, understanding, empathy, and love that they – and all people – deserve, this darkness of childhood and humanity – bullying – would go away. Children who aren’t bullied by their parents, aren’t going to bully others, nor are they going to become the victims of bullying. Children who have only experienced peace will teach peace - it's in their nature.


    I may not be able to keep my children away from all forms of negativity or disappointment in their lives.  Nor should I.  But I do know the way I interact with them will affect the way they can deal with these things in the future.  I hope you’ll join me in a commitment to teaching our children messages of love and inclusion, in the continued hope that some time in the future, no child should have to encounter isolation and bullying at school.  And school can go back to being a place about love of learning and peer community, as it should be.

    **A while back, I read a great book that really speaks to this - the messages we send our children every day - without even meaning to, called Hidden Messages: What Our Words and Actions Are Really Telling Our Children by Elizabeth Pantley. I highly recommend it! 


    Cathy United States said:

    CathyGreat post Kelly! My younger son has been teased and bullied on more than one occasion and as a mother is makes my stomach that I wasn't there to protect him. He often kept it to himself for fear of retaliation if he told. My biggest advice as a parent is ask questions about your child's day....simple questions bring out the most telling answers, but the key is to really listen to what they say and what they don't say. Sadly, we have to become skilled at zoning in on the red flags or warning signs.

    # October 05 2010, 15:28

    Amber Canada said:

    AmberToday I am thinking that I really need to read Barbara Coloroso's "The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander". I think I'm going to put it on my Christmas list.

    But leaving that aside, I really hope that you are right. It's not always clear to me what effect my words and actions have on my children. But I do try to teach peace and inclusion. I am working on it. And I am willing it all to sink in.

    # October 05 2010, 16:15

    Kathleen (amoment2think) Canada said:

    Kathleen (amoment2think)Kelly,

    After the comment you left on my blog I was expecting to disagree at least somewhat with what you are saying.

    But I don't. Not at all. I totally agree that if we treat our children with kindness, love and respect and model with them how to treat others well, this will do much to reduce bullying.

    As I said in my response to you, I don't think bullying is required character building. But I do think life if full of challenge, disappointment and quite frankly, not nice people. So while we model good, loving, accepting behaviour, I think we must also be open and honest with our kids about the reality of the crappy aspects of life.

    # November 02 2010, 18:35

    kelly United States said:

    kellyI agree about being open & honest. Yes, life is not always awesome. And degrees of not-awesome that are successfully navigated give kids coping skills they can build on into adulthood, in order to be adaptable to everything life can throw at you. This can be accomplished through giving kids responsibilities, allowing them to fix their own problems, to come up with their own solutions, even if they don't agree wtih your own.    

    But in order to be inspiring or fully realized individuals, they don't NEED the crappy; not the really crappy, anyway.  Kids don't need bad experiences in the most difficult times of their life (middle-high school) to thrive and in fact, I think that the worry over possibilities that people might not like you, or that people can be mean, or that life is full of disappointment & challenge as a message given to kids trying to navigate their way through early life & learn - does nothing to help them and can only hinder their ability to absorb and interpret the world.

    Its the same reason why very small children shouldn't watch cartoons (or television) or be read fiction. They don't have the tools to separate fact from fiction, possible from concrete. If you surround them with real, they develop the tools to navigate the fake as they become older.

    I want my kids base to be in goodness, honesty, happiness, tolerance.  Yes, the possibilities exist that people won't like you or will be mean - but we cross those bridges when we get to them.  In the meantime, a strong base of self-esteem is all that's necessary. In the same way that I don't introduce negative ideas (about bullying) I also don't say, there are people who steal kids, instead I give them tools to stay safe, and I make sure our environment is safe.

    # November 03 2010, 12:02

    KellyNaturally.com said:

    trackbackBullying, Empathy, and Fixing Stuff that Shouldn't be Broken

    Bullying, Empathy, and Fixing Stuff that Shouldn't be Broken

    # December 13 2011, 18:52

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