When I had kids, it didn’t occur to me just how different they could be. I raised two boys–one outgoing and charismatic and the other socially awkward and difficult in a group. I didn’t understand how I could raise them in the same house with the same values, yet send them off to have such vastly different experiences at school.
My oldest always struggled to make friends. Let’s just say he marched to the beat of his own drum. That was hard for people—kids and parents alike. It was even hard for us, sometimes. Many times, he came home to tell me about something that had happened at school with his “friends” that was clearly bullying. It broke my heart to see how it affected his self-esteem, his grades, and his willingness to be himself, especially since I had a similar experience growing up. In his middle school years, the bullying led to him feeling like he had to change for other people to fit in.
My youngest had a very different experience in school. He made friends easily and rarely struggled with relationships. As he got older, I noticed that he was one of the people picking on his big brother for being different. It was at that point my husband and I realized we had a real issue. My son was headed down the path to becoming a bully—and we weren’t okay with it. Not having grown up with a lot of support from my parents when I was bullied, I had no idea how to fix this growing problem. So, I started researching.
I didn’t like what I found. I learned that in some instances, lack of attention at home or even parental behavior can contribute to a child becoming a bully. I started to look more deeply at my own relationships. Did something I was doing play a role in teaching him to bully? I started thinking about how I treated people. Did the relationships I had in my life teach my kids that being different is okay? What did only keeping to my tight circle of friends or all that trash talking about neighbors or coworkers teach my kids about relationships? What was I teaching my kids about a person’s worth?
It’s hard to admit that when I took a hard look in the mirror, my son was not the only one who needed an attitude adjustment. I wasn’t outright telling my child to be a bully, but my actions were giving him permission by showing him it was okay to treat people poorly. And by choosing to ignore some of the digs he would make at his brother, or even sometimes hopping on the proverbial band wagon, I was leaving my older son to fend for himself. When I realized my role in what was happening, I was ashamed and embarrassed. But I knew that like all parents, I could make mistakes if I was willing to learn and grow in the process.
So, as a family, we made some changes in the way we treated each other and those around us. We worked hard to learn how to treat everyone with kindness, simply because they are human beings. We taught each other how to be more tolerant of different points of view by listening instead of always having the last word, even when we passionately disagreed. We constantly practiced the art of respectful disagreement—and we can argue like champs!
By the time my kids were in high school, I’m happy to say that my oldest son found his niche of friends that accepted him just the way he was and my youngest became one of the kindest hearts I know. I have most definitely changed the way I interact with everyone, from coworkers to friends to family—but most importantly the way I interact with my kids. In our family, we now choose kindness above everything else.
Do your research to understand what bullying is and how to prevent it in your family. Change did not happen overnight, and honestly, it wasn’t easy. But looking back now, I can see what a drastic difference it has made in our lives and how much happier we became in the process.