By Ashley Trexler March
Here are eight ways you may be unknowingly encouraging bullying.
Want to raise a mean girl? Act like one. If you wouldn’t include your child in a conversation, you shouldn’t have it within earshot of them. Kids hear everything. The first time my daughter got hold of my phone to mimic me was truly eye-opening. My little cutie-pie morphed into a gossip girl. Eyes wide, hands waving, hips sashaying, screeching, “Wow! No! Hahaha!” She wasn’t even 2 years old yet. It was sobering to see myself through her young eyes. Catty comments are no better than outright bullying. It’s indirect bullying, and many of us do it all the time. At some point in your life, someone probably decided you weren’t “cool,” and you didn’t get a say in the matter. Didn’t feel so good, did it? Remember that feeling. Then do your best to shut off your inner gossip, especially in front of your kids.
You love your family. But relationships have their ups and downs, with the direction often being down after children enter the picture. When was the last time you told your partner or family members that you loved them? In front of your kids? Not, “I love you, but…,” but just, “I love you.” Positive displays of intimacy in the home are the basis for our kids’ relationships. You’re busy, but a simple hug and kiss for each family member on the way out the door in the morning is a great start toward teaching healthy intimacy. Show them you care, so they can show others they care.
You hate your job. Those last few pounds you struggle to lose, or dealing with that messy house, or frizzy hair – your attitude reflects how you view the world. And when we act like we can’t change the outcome, we act helpless. How you feel about life has a long-lasting impact on your kids. They hear their hero (you) act helpless and that will make them feel powerless too. If your kids feel powerless, they may act to reclaim that lost power through bullying behavior. Save the negative talk for after the kids go to bed (or better yet, channel your frustration into a hobby you love). Let your kids be kids.
And an outlet for stress? Bullying.
We are scared our kids will be at a disadvantage if they don’t participate in everything. So we rush to register them for ballet, karate, soccer, and so much more. But the only thing they miss out on if they have a slower schedule is anxiety and depression. If your child has a passion, by all means allow them the opportunity to explore it in more depth. But kids need unstructured free time. Play time, creative time, quiet time. The damaging effects of full schedules are well documented. Over-scheduling quickly leads to stressed kids. Stress leads to anxiety, anger, and aggression, which paves the way for bullying behavior.
The last thing I want to do after a long day of pickups, drop-offs, work, and errands is deal with rule breakers, time-outs, and temper tantrums. So we choose to enforce as few rules as possible. But we enforce those few rules all the time. Inside those boundaries lies freedom. Lay the ground rules, enforce them, and give your kids permission to be themselves within those boundaries. They’ll feel a healthy sense of power and independence, and they won’t feel the need to bully in an effort to regain lost power.
Bullying happens at every age. Every time you watch someone or something happen that you could help prevent with word or action, you are a peer to bullying. You are allowing it to continue through inaction. I understand the appeal of the squirrel launching rocket videos on YouTube. Really, I do. But the more you watch, the less you care. Turn it off. The long-term effects of desensitization are very real. Watch and laugh if you must, but remember your child is learning how to react to life through your actions. Make what you do count.
Because who’s the most powerful kid in class? The bully.