WHAT ABOUT BULLYING?
A few days ago my daughter asked if I thought her son, who just turned one, was going to be as tall as I am. (I am 6’7” tall and my grandson is off the charts in height and weight for his age – he was 12 lbs 2 oz and 22 inches at birth). I answered that I thought he would end up at least as tall as me if not taller. My daughter voiced her concern that both her children (her oldest is also tall for her age) will suffer some taunts and teasing as they grow older. This got me to thinking about all of the bullying that goes on today; about where bullying comes from and what parents can do to protect their children from bullying as they grow older.
WHERE DOES BULLYING COME FROM?
The most important fact that we must accept is that children learn this behavior. Bullying and the emotions that feed it are not part of our innate knowledge (meaning not the part of us that is our natural beingness). Bullying is something that children learn from their parents, from other adults, from their peers, and from all of the outside influences that are rampant in today’s society.
It is also critical to understand that bullying is, for the most part, about trying to both cover one’s fear of survival (typically expressed as fear of change or fear of failure) and a need to build one’s self up by putting another down. This is seen most often when one is perceived to be different than another or a group. For some reason society cannot seem to tolerate someone who is different so it has this need to force compliance to the accepted norms of the day – no matter that those acceptable norms may be a form of anger and hate. This push for compliance is everywhere. It is in our schools, our governments, our religions, our commercial activities, our sports, our friends – in other words, everywhere.
Society places standards of parenting success on us all, or at least on those who choose to try and comply with those standards. Society says: “be normal,” “comply with all rules,” “look like the beautiful people,” “be popular,” “make lots of money,” “don’t rock the boat,” and so on. And society teaches us to condemn, and therefore bully, others who do not meet those standards.
Perhaps even more insidious is that individuals bully themselves more than they bully others. It starts by taking on a belief that “I am only as good as what others perceive in me.” As children many of us are taught to believe that we must COMPLY with the norms of society in order to be acceptable. My mother was a champion at that. From her own wounds she constantly nagged us to “look good,” “to do everything right,” “to make sure that others complimented us so that she would feel good about herself.” When we accept this belief we then begin to judge ourselves (meaning we condemn ourselves) for any behavior that does not comply to another’s expectations. This condemnation eventually can turn us into self-bullying and then to bullying others.
I took on the belief from my mother ‘that who I am naturally was not good enough and that in order to be good enough I must think and act in accordance to my mother’s or society’s standards.’ I had to learn to let this go and to let my anger at my mother go for she was only doing what she had been taught herself. (This legacy of compliance to another’s perspective went back several generations.) In my work with children and families I see this demand for compliance in so many. It is contrary to who we are as souls.
CAN PARENTS PROTECT THEIR CHILDREN FROM BEING THE TARGET OF BULLYING?
No. But we can prepare them to NOT be affected by what others say about them. We can prepare them to respond to such taunts without anger but with understanding and love. In fact, we can teach our children to live a life of joy, harmony and love. Isn’t this teaching what parenting is all about?
We all carry an innate goodness, an innate compassion, an innate connection to one another. When parents foster these innate traits in their children those children build their own self-esteem and self-confidence. And, while it may be contrary to our own upbringing and contrary to what society demands of us, fostering this in our children is not that difficult.
I do acknowledge that we will be challenged to find the patience not to follow the old parenting patterns we have been taught. My daughter and her husband constantly are challenged to be patient with their (almost) 3-year-old. When she gets frustrated that child can certainly act in a disruptive way. Thankfully, and to their credit, my daughter and son-in-law take the time to coach and direct this child to make other choices while teaching her to be her natural, loving self. Does it always work perfectly? Not at all. But their parenting practice is always to allow their daughter to find her own way of behaving in a natural and loving way.
I do not mean to suggest to not enforce consequences when our children act in some non-beneficial way. On the contrary, I suggest that it is our duty as parents to teach our children that with every choice there is a consequence – either positive or negative. When their behavior is negative, then there needs to be a consequence fitting to that behavior, but not from a place of punishment. By its very definition “punishment” has anger, fear and pain attached to it. Consequences then are about teaching children to make positive choices so also remember to offer consequences to positive behavior as well. And remember, when your child(ren) resist you or act out in some unacceptable way, always remember to offer them love along with a consequence.
I do not believe that bullying will stop in our society for society will continue to demand compliance to its own righteousness. I suspect the majority will continue to seek to comply to society’s rigid standards and in so doing will deny their own uniqueness and ultimately their own love. When we deny our innate ability to love ourselves we deny that love to others and we fall prey to seeking love outside of ourselves by striving to be what others want us to be.
That being said, we each can be responsible to STOP bullying ourselves and to teach our children to not bully themselves. We can be responsible to foster our own and our children’s innate and glorious natural beingness. I often tell clients that my teaching is “simple” but it is not necessarily “easy.” But isn’t any change always this way? Just because it requires being uncomfortable and often demanding great patience, do not give up on teaching your children (no matter their age) that love is more powerful than anger and that each person (including ourselves) deserves our love and compassion.