The Original Bully?

Do we unintentionally teach our children how to bully, or how to be bullied? Could this be true?

This was a hard blog to write. It was hard because I had to face some uncomfortable truths. I also felt like I was shining a light on a truth, that collectively, we have chosen to ignore year after year. We ignore truths when they are too painful to acknowledge. So, this is obviously a painful and sensitive issue. I write this with the intention not to shame anyone, but to shine a light so we can move forward.

Kids act out what they have experienced, and what they have learned. The only question is, where do our children learn how to bully and be bullied? This blog is not meant to distract from other influences on our children. It is meant to highlight what we are in control of: HOME.

Could interactions at home impact the behavior we see in our neighborhoods or at school? It is a hard question to ask but, is the parent the original bully?

This is what I have noticed:

An aggressive kind of bullying uses physical or verbal force to exert one’s will. If I’m to be honest, behaviors on the playground look quite like some of the parental behaviors at home.

Parents can be aggressive in these ways:

  • be rough, grab, or hit
  • yell or shout down
  • name call, tease, or ridicule
  • threaten (If you don’t do x, then…)

It makes me sad to admit I’ve engaged in all of these behaviors.

Could you see how if we engage in these behaviors at home, we could inadvertently be teaching our kids how to bully and be bullied.

What about the mental/emotional bullying that has seen an increase of late? It can also be called relational aggression. It’s where one uses emotional coercion as the force to exert one’s will. Is this kind of bullying related at all to home life?

Examples of relational bullying at school

1. Isolating, ignoring, and shunning certain children until those children act the way the bully wants.

2. Exclusion/Ganging up: “You are not allowed to join our group. Or, If you want to join, you have to do what I say.”

3. Picking on kids, verbally chastising or criticizing weaker children.

4. Playing favorites/Playing friends against one another. Using friendship (the relationship) as a means to control. “I’m friends with her now, not you” “If you don’t do X, I won’t be your friend”.

Examples of Parenting at home:

1. Isolation/Ignoring – “Go away, sit here by yourself, go to your room until you are sorry and act the way we want you to act.”

2. Exclusionary Consequences – “You are not allowed to join in because you did X.” Or, “Do what we want… or you will not be able to join in the activity.”

3. Correcting/controlling though negative commands and assessments of children’s behavior rather than positive guidance. “Stop that” “Come here!” “That’s not right” “Why are you doing that?”

4. Playing favorites/relational coercion – Over praising and being more loving to the child who is doing what you want them to do, so the other sees it, feels bad, and then complies. Or comparing: “Why can’t you what (insert other “better child”) is doing?”

The similarities are shocking. To me there is a clear link between the physically aggressive and emotionally aggressive behavior we see in our children at school and what children experience at home. However, this is one of the hardest things to see.

Why is this so hard to see? Why is it so hard to admit and address? It’s because it hurts to know that our behaviors are hurting our child, and perhaps other children.

There is also a  disconnect, and it is this. We don’t really want this to be true because we don’t really believe it in it. It is not our true heart. We don’t like these aggressive actions. We actually want to be better and different for our kids. It is not our true selves that wants to be aggressive with our children, it is our autopilot, our condition reactions. However, the truth will always be: we teach by what we do, not by what we think or say. The buck stops there.

There is a way out. You can align your actions with your true beliefs. It takes commitment and intentionality. But I have done it and so can you!

I know this might be hard for some parents to acknowledge. It was for me. However with this realization, came freedom. I got to choose something better. For me, accepting full responsibility for my own actions has allowed me to learn and grow, in parenting and beyond. If you are willing to see things for what they are, I know you can have a truly positive impact on the lives of your children.

In truth and love,

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