I never liked bullies. Who does, really? I had a few of them in my life growing up and they were no fun. They made the growing up years so much harder than it should’ve been (although as we say now we live and learn and build character through these experiences, but anyway. It’s besides the point).
Now that I’m a parent, I worry about my kids getting bullied too. Sam experienced it as a baby, and while I know that the
devil child was not in full consciousness of what she was doing, I still felt my blood boil. I am that parent who’d defend their child at any cost.
How ironic was it for me to realize (fairly recently) that the act of bullying can actually start in the home. With parents like ourselves.
The fact is, it’s very hard to discipline children. You have to be consistent. You have to be firm. You have to be fair (amongst other things). And from what I’ve experienced, it’s always a hit and miss. Sometimes they’ll listen and they’ll get it; and often times they won’t, or they won’t want to. I know first hand how that can drive any parent crazy. The testing, the pushing of limits… it can get under your skin. As the parent, I feel responsible for the behavior of my kids. Disciplining them weighs heavy on my shoulders. There’s no giving up, no backing out. We HAVE to produce results. And more than that, I want peace, harmony and just some semblance of order. It’s an indication that I’m doing something right, after all.
But to get there can be a problem. And honestly when disciplining, it’s so much easier to raise our voices, call out mistakes, or threaten kids to listen and obey.
“Eat your vegetables or else you can’t go to the park,” says the parent in an attempt to get their child to eat something healthy.
“Stop running or else you can’t go swimming,” says the mother who has put her little boy in his swimsuit and is waiting by the pool for the teacher to arrive.
“Share your toys or else I won’t let you play with them anymore.”
When you read them again though, don’t they sound like a big bad bully to you?
At the onset, we really don’t see this as bullying our children. It’s just a typical parent who’s trying to get their children to do the right thing. We are after all, just disciplining them the way we know how. These are things parents say with good intentions. Vegetables are good for the body. Running by the slippery pool area is in fact dangerous. Sharing is caring (and a valuable life skill to learn). In fact, there’s really nothing wrong with the intention and the motivation. It’s just in the execution of it when things get tricky.
Coach Pia has made me realize that the way we say it really matters. The words we use, the tone we use, and the manner in which we carry it out… it all makes a difference. Refraining from using “no” a lot or setting them as limitations (that need to be tested and pushed). A calm voice. Reasoning and explaining instead of dictating. Removing “I told you so,” from our list of statements. Making good on deals made instead of empty threats. It’s a world of difference.
“Vegetables are good for you, and I want you to be strong and healthy for when we play in the park, so let’s eat a little bit before we go”;
“I know you’re excited to swim, and you may not mean to but I worry you might slip and hurt yourself. So please sit down and let’s think of something else to do while waiting for teacher”; and
“It would mean a lot to me if you shared your toys with your sister. We can think of a game you could do together.”
Are worlds apart from their original counterparts. The intention is the same; but the effect on the child could be totally different. After all, who likes being dictated to and screamed at? And isn’t it a typical parental complaint that after constantly berating them with loud harsh words, they learn to tune you out? It doesn’t set a good example as to how they should relate to others. In fact, it also teaches them to be bullies.
The HOW we say it also matters. Eye contact, down at their level versus shouting it over their heads, for instance. Holding them close and talking instead of shouting. Finding the right teaching moment which is non-threatening is very helpful too.
There’s no reason why we shouldn’t discipline our kids in a loving way. You can still be firm, consistent and fair, without the coercion into submission (read: without the bullying). It helps to remember that the rule is bigger than us. We don’t just want the kids to listen to us because we’re their parents. We want them to understand the WHY behind it all.
I cannot begin to tell you how many disciplining mistakes I’ve made to date. When I realized this, it hurt me to think that I was in fact a bully to my kids, and that is a regret I will have forever. If only for that, I promise to change and try harder. There’s no way I can say I’ve got it all down pat, but at the very least I hope the girls see I’m trying my darn-dest best. When I slip (and I do slip, believe me), I apologize and process the incident with them after. At the very least, I’m aware that I don’t want to do it anymore, and that’s the first step in making the change.
Admittedly it isn’t the method that will get the fastest, most immediate results. And admittedly… it’s HARD! Being consistently patient, catching yourself before you explode; no one wants to be a broken record on repeat (as if that weren’t redundant enough). But it is all part and parcel of the parenting process. And anyway, it is the method that sticks with them better in the long run.
We become better parents because we want to give our kids the best, and hopefully influence them to be better people someday too. And when I think of it this way, I persevere and continue to try, if only because I love my kids to the moon and back.