As parents, we have certain responsibilities to our children. This isn’t limited to providing food and shelter – we also need to give them the necessary tools to handle a world that isn’t always kind.
We have an enormous job, especially in their formative years, teaching them how to cope with the unfairness they may encounter in life. Sadly, there are always people out there who want to drag others down. Bullies are nothing new – they’ve always been around, in one form or another. As parents, we need to watch, listen, and help our children understand how to respond to their behavior. We can’t always change others’ actions, but we can help our children in their reactions.
Many years ago, I was bullied. Back then, we didn’t call it “bullying” and we didn’t use the term “mean girls,” but I was teased in junior high for having a pot belly. Girls would tell the boys that I was pregnant, and then turn around and talk about my inability to ever get a boyfriend. I was teased because my mom made all my clothes. She loved recreating what she saw in specialty shops, but according to my classmates, it was because we were too poor to buy clothes.
Some girls would say things to my face, some behind my back, some in notes, and one in a three page letter that listed every one of my real or imagined flaws.
I was bullied. Girls were mean to me. I cried about it, but my parents were there. My mom would tell me that life isn’t always fair and girls can be mean. She said I needed to remember how it felt, so I would never treat someone that way. Honestly, I would have loved for my mom to call those girls’ parents, or tell the teachers or the coaches to put a stop to the teasing. But great mother that she was, she just tried to listen and help me understand that for the rest of my life, people may not always agree with me or even like me.
She taught me to accept what I couldn’t change — other people’s behavior.
I lost my mom a day after my 16th birthday. It was incredibly unfair; it was unfair that she died and it was unfair that I had to give up some things I wanted to do in order to take care of my younger brother and sister. It was unfair that people were still cruel and mean. But at least I had the foundation to stand up for myself and realize that I couldn’t change what others did and said. My mom had given me tools to cope with the world, even when she couldn’t be there.
Several years later, it was my turn to raise three daughters and I tried to instill the same principles – to help them accept what they couldn’t change. I think back on all the times I heard my mother’s words come out of my mouth. I followed in her footsteps. I had to be there to tell them that they weren’t ugly. Be there to tell them they were smart. Be there to encourage their goals and desires. Be there to be their guide. Catch my drift — I had to be there! Be their parent, not their friend.
One of the hardest things for any parent is to sit back instead of going to battle for our kids. We think they need rescuing and we jump into a situation before giving it a chance to resolve itself.
What if instead, we guide our children to make decisions – sound ones – on their own?
One day, my oldest daughter came home from basketball practice in tears. I asked her what was wrong, and she replied that the coach told her she wasn’t even good enough to be on a Little League team. I smiled (which made her cry more) and asked her, “if he really believed that, then why did he change your schedule just to put you on the varsity team?” When the crying continued, I tried another approach: “I bet he’s said that to a lot of his players, just to get a reaction. I bet it’s just a coaching style.” I let her think about that for awhile. A few days later, she came home with a big smile. She had asked a teammate about the comment, and was told with a laugh, “Oh, he tells that to everybody.”
When she first told me what happened, I could have marched right into that practice and demanded to give that coach a piece of my mind for saying something hurtful to my baby. But what would I have accomplished? It would have alienated her from the coach, who actually thought quite highly of her abilities. It would have singled her out to her teammates, who already thought of her as a freshman “baby.” Yelling at the coach or even just calling him to complain would not have taught my daughter how to deal with similar situations in the future. Instead, she would have been known as the little girl whose mother fights her battles.
The way we teach our children to handle bullies can make or break their ability to cope with the tough stuff in life as they get older. Even as adults, we run into people who want to drag us down, pull us under, or ruin something good in our lives.
Parents, give your children the coping skills to handle those people. Be their support system, not their “I’ll take care of this” system. There may be bullies in this world, but with guidance, our kids can learn to deal with whatever comes their way.
Join us in celebrating Unity Day on October 22 by “going orange” to take a stand against bullying. Post your orange pride on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using #UnityDay2014!More On