We went to the beach again to make up for the rain day we lost on our vacation. We let the children invite play mates to come so we had a carpool of five children ages 5 to 9.
The conversation turned to bullies in their classroom. One child asked if my children had any bullies in their class, because they wanted to talk about a bully in their class. Our middle child asked what a bully was – cute!
This had me thinking. My thoughts about bullies could have a powerful influence on how my children perceive the world. If I felt like a victim, I might respond by saying that bullies hurt people and they are mean and someone needs to punish them. If I felt like a bully, I may say that bullies are cowards and the best way to handle them is just be meaner than they are. I also thought about what I was taught about bullies.
“If they hit you then pick up something bigger and harder and make sure when you hit them they don’t get up.”
What have I done about the ‘perceived’ bullies in my own life? How have I treated them? How do I respond to their actions? All of these answers will determine what I teach my children. Introspecting about these topics in my own life is a great opportunity. I can heal some of my own stuff, so I can grow up and mature with my children.
So I asked questions. Why do you think they are bullies? What do they do? Why do you think they are acting that way? How are things at home? They all agreed the “bullies” home life was not good. One of the children’s mother gets too tired and even says things like “you pulled her hair, well I’m just too tired to deal with this” and so the child learns there are no consequences. The other child does not have firm limits set at home. So they act out at school the same way they do at home, but at school they hit the teachers’ wall of limits and there are consequences.
What if we help our children empathize with other children that are acting out? What if we can help our children see that children who behave this way have something deeper going on that has nothing to do with them? What if they learn to depersonalize another childs’ reactions? So as they grow up when someone acts out they DO NOT PERSONALIZE someone else’s pain. What if we then apply this in our own life? What if we see that someone else’s reactions have absolutely nothing to do with us?
My middle child got it! She said “He is crazy mom and I can tell in his eyes when he’s going to be crazy so I just stay away from him.”
What if we were preceptive enough in our own lives, to see the ‘crazy’ in someone else’s eyes, and just stay away from them?! Like even our own spouses, when they are in a ‘mood’, what if we just empathized with them and gave them space? How would that change our interaction with them? What if we didn’t make them wrong, didn’t try to fix them, didn’t judge them, didn’t expect them to change? What if we just saw the ‘crazy’ as their own demons to tackle that had NOTHING to do with us? Would we be more joyful? Would we be better spouses? Would we suffer less? Instead we could turn inward and focus on ourselves and ask why does their ‘crazy’ trigger such a reaction in me?
This is difficult work. Imagine the pressure we place on another that we make their state responsible for our state? When we learn to disconnect, with empathy not anger, then we experience a freedom of witnessing their reactions without having to be triggered by their reactions. They experience a freedom of being able to react and process their feelings without fear of retribution about our reactions.
What if we focused all our energy at looking into our own reactions? We like to focus on other people because we can escape looking at our own behavior. But how does talking about, focusing on, thinking about someone else improve the quality of our own lives? How does spending valuable energy on “them” help “me” feel energized and at peace? If we come from this place of empathy, a willingness to turn the focus inward, and to let go and accept what is, then what are we teaching our children?
Alternatively if they hear us complain, criticize, judge and constantly focus on the behavior of others then what are we teaching them? So if your child judges you harshly, puts you under a microscope, only looks at your faults and complains or criticizes about much of what you do, then you need only look in the mirror.
This may be painful and uncomfortable and your ego may resist and deny, claiming this cannot be right, just look at all the wonderful things you do as a parent. That is true, we are wonderful parents, especially when we have the courage to see how we can be bullies in our own life and with our own children and how our actions and reactions have laid the foundation for theirs. Having the courage to honor this process, to look at this and see our part, makes us beyond a wonderful parent. It means that we are willing to parent our children in a way so that we too can grow up!