Monday, September 30, 2013

Bullying Begins at Home

Anti-bullying programs are all the rage these days.  And while those who write the propaganda don't usually word it this way, a "war on bullying" has been declared. The government even has their own anti-bullying website. 

All the promotion of anti-bullying and bullying prevention programs and curricula is missing the point, and may in fact be pointless or making things worse as you can read HERE at Psychology Today. We can't stop bullying by bullying the bullies. It's not logical and doing so, unfortunately, creates more hate and anger. 

One child torments another child, that child tells their parents, who call the school, which notifies the school counselor, who talks to the tormentor, which makes the tormentor feel picked on and angry, which causes them to lash out again, which causes the bullied child to tell their parents again, who call the school again, this time the tormentor's parents are notified, they punish their child, who feels picked on (dare we say bullied?) and even angrier....  

So, what is the answer? 

Children may become bullies because they have emotional, mental, or developmental problems, but most often children bully because they have been bullied. Children bully because it is a behavior that someone has modeled for them. Someone made them feel small and helpless, and now they are going to make someone else feel small and helpless so that they can feel bigger, stronger and in control. It's still a nasty cycle, but when we stop and ask "why is this child bullying?" instead of "how do we stop bullying?" we get an answer that stops the cycle.

Parents bully their kids, a lot! Teachers bully their students, way more often than you realize. And while taking our kids out of school is an option, one that I chose when my children were being bullied, taking children out of their homes is always a sad last resort. And that means we need to change how we parent. We need to be modeling how to communicate without resorting to threats, resolve conflict without yelling or physical violence, work out a compromise, and be kind to others even when they aren't being kind to us - or particularly when they aren't being kind to us. 

As parents we have built in opportunities to model these things for our children. I'm going to focus on that last one: being kind even when others aren't kind to us. 

Sometimes kids yell, "I hate you!" at their parents, sometimes kids are out of sorts, and every kid goes through a time when their hormones kick in making them less emotionally stable or more sensitive. Kids have bad days. And what do we, their parents, do when this happens? Do we snap back, "Don't you talk to me like that!" Do we ground them? Do we give them a lecture on how they need to learn to be more polite? Are we punitive, angry, and overly sensitive in return? 

All the lectures, grounding, and angry words we can muster are not going to teach our child to be nice. Being kind to our children models that behavior and creates an environment where they can learn to be kind. 

When our kids yell "I hate you!" at us, how do we respond? First we ask ourselves if we've done something to make our kid angry. If we need to apologize we should start there, and then we can empathize. It's entirely possible those words were directed at us but aren't about us, perhaps our child feels safe with us so the anger is coming out at us instead of at someone or something else. We can listen to our child talk about why they are upset, or we can give our child space if they need time to calm down, we can make them a snack, give them a hug, or ask if they'd like to take a walk. We can be nice to them! And if we do this consistently, when they are having a bad day or they lash out, they will most likely learn that when someone you love is having a hard time the best response is love and kindness. 

If you are an adult who knows a child who bullies other children find a way to support and encourage that child. Everyone wants to be loved. Bullies are often those people who haven't been shown kindness, haven't felt loved, or need to feel strong and in control because someone or some thing in their life is making them feel small and dominated. Bullies need our compassion, kindness, and empathy. It's time to declare a truce in the war on bullies and include them in our group hug. 


Memories of a Bullied Kid, Single Dad Laughing, Dan Pearce, has a heartfelt and helpful 3 part series about being bullied and how to respond. There are other powerful posts on the subject at site as well. 

Bullying Starts at Home, article from Huffington Post.

Helene Guldberg On Bullying, a more in depth consideration of the statistics, and why children shouldn't necessarily be expected to like and be nice to everyone. 

Can Teenagers be Smarter than Bullying Researchers? This includes a video clip from blank slate theater. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

But My Kid Is Not Gay...

Are you sitting there thinking, "But my kid's not gay, why should I care?" 

Is there really any reason to raise our children from birth in a way that supports them in growing up an ally? Babies don't care if someone is gender nonconforming, babies have no concept of sexual orientation, so what difference does it make?

And there you have my answer: It's important to consider how we are raising our children from birth, because from birth we are shaping their views on social issues even before they are old enough to know that there are other perspectives. From birth we can model compassion, respect, and unconditional love in every interaction with our child. And while you may think that every parent would automatically model those things, many parents do not. 

The second part of my answer is this: Your child might not be gay, but maybe they are and they haven't told you because they believe you won't love them or accept them if you knew. Your child might not be gay, but, if your child is very young, they might be and neither of you know it yet. Your child might not be gay, but they may be gender nonconforming, bisexual, a lesbian, or enjoy dressing in drag. Your child might not be gay, but their cousin might be. Your child might not be gay, but at some point in their life they are going to find out that someone they know is and when that happens it should really be no big deal.

And if your child is gay, and they have grown up in an ally family, then they will be able to tell you "I'm gay," knowing it won't change your relationship.  

When we were raising our babies we had no way of knowing that our daughter's first preschool teacher would be gay, or that her boyfriend would have two moms. We didn't know that one of our girls would want to go into theater and that she'd join a theater program that was directed by a gay man. We did know that we had a relative who had hidden their sexual orientation from their family into adulthood, and the pain that caused everyone in the end. When my girls were babies, I wasn't consciously raising my children differently because of that, but now I know that how we have raised our kids has the potential to save their generation and future generations from a whole lot of hurting.  

If we are to raise children who are compassionate and who accept others for who they are, we need to be compassionate parents who accept our children as the individuals they are from birth. We do this by responding when they cry, actively meeting their needs, listening to what they have to say, and giving them space to be who they are instead of trying to shape them into who we want them to be. 

With every interaction we check to make sure we are not making our needs, wants, or expectations more important than those of our children. We check in with ourselves, asking, "Would I treat an adult the way I'm treating my kid?" We put ourselves in our kids' shoes and we respond from a place of empathy and compassion, not from a place of being bigger, stronger, or older. 

We need to let our kids know that they never have to earn our love by living up to our expectations or pretending to be someone they aren't. We need to love them unconditionally, and unconditional love is not affected by their sexual orientation.

Blog posts relating to Parenting

Letter from the Accepting Dad To the Unicorn's Dad, concerning his child who had recently come out as transgender.

Amelia's advice: 10 Ways to Support Your Gay Kid, Whether You Know You Have One or Not

Click on the "Resources" tab above to find links that offer support for you if you think your child might be ____________ (fill in the blank).

Books relating to parenting: 

Radical Family Parenting: A Guide for Parenting with Compassion, Honesty, Respect, and Unconditional Love, written by Jess Robertson 

Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reasons, written by Alfie Kohn  

Websites related to parenting with compassion: 

The Natural Child Project website.  

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Clothes Kids Wear

It's not about what we want, it's about who our children are.

In a recent online exchange a mother expressed her concern over her child wearing the same clothes two days in a row. Upon reflection she realized that this stemmed from her worries about what other people would think: what the teacher would think about her as a parent and what her child's classmates would think. 

My perspective?  Nothing is more important than my relationship with my child, particularly not clothes, and decidedly not what "other people" will think. What other people think about me or my child is never more important than my child's sense of self and their ability to express that sense of self with confidence. 

I recognize that what other people think may ultimately affect how my child feels, particularly if those people are narrow minded, vocal in their negativity, and generally insensitive toward children.. 

And because of that I would suggest that if every parent supported their child in expressing them self, the social norm would be acceptance of diversity and self expression.

I had a daughter go to kindergarten with pink streaks in her hair and wearing all pink clothing, while another daughter chose to consistently wear her favorite color: blue. My oldest, at that age, only wore dresses, and favored the color purple. We support our kids in wearing what makes them feel comfortable, in their clothes and as a person. Starting when they can express an opinion in what they wear, a smile at pink, tears about itchy tags, grabbing for one item rather than another when dad holds up two shirts and asks, "Do you want to wear the red shirt or the green shirt today?" we need to respect our kids' choices in what they wear. 

If we do this, then our kids are more likely to respect other people's choices in what they wear. 

My girls came home from a trip to Disney World with the grandparents with many memories: meeting face characters, riding rides, eating amazing food. One story they shared with awesome enthusiasm: there was a boy, who might have been 12, dressed as Minnie Mouse, wearing a princess sash! They thought he was so cool. (One of my daughters has pointed out that we don't know if this child identifies as a boy. Her concern that we might offend someone by assuming a gender is a reminder that my kids have taught me most of what I know about raising allies.)

If you are a parent who worries about what others will think please know that if your child is wearing an outfit they love it will show in they way they walk through life. If you kid goes to the grocery store wearing their tutu, Batman costume, rainbow colored hair, or their footie pajamas with rain boots, the glow of your child is going to make someone smile and someone is going to think you are a pretty awesome parent! Focus on that person, and smile big at anyone who frowns in your direction. 

Blogs and articles relating to raising gender non-conforming or gender creative children:

It's O.K. To Be Neither: Teaching That Supports Gender-Variant Children 

HERE is a list of Supportive Books & Media for Gender Variant/Non-conforming Kids