an early morning ramble about bullying


There is lots of talk about bullying these days. This is a good thing – more adults are starting to take notice and to take what goes on between kids seriously. More workplaces are striving to create safe environments for the people who make their business or organizations actually work.

Do you ever wonder about the quality of the discussions around bullying? I saw a comment online the other day about how anti-bullying curricula are big business these days. That kind of comment raises a red flag for me. I always worry that profit and market appeal will trump quality and effectiveness. Easy answers are so tempting in the face of the painful or difficult questions in life.

I have three school aged children and we have dealt with our share of bullying incidents over the years everywhere from on the school bus to the classroom to birthday parties to Facebook. And as I am sure just about any other parent to more than one child can attest, all three of my lovely children has the capacity to treat a sibling with less than loving, respectful behaviour. They can be each other’s best friends but they also test out their worst behaviour on each other – at least mine do! Here are some things I have observed and learned over the years while trying to raise compassionate, creative, courageous, just, kind people from the perfectly beautiful, loving, joyful babies I was given.

Self-esteem matters. Children cannot be too loved. I do not believe that constant praise and unconditional support and admiration contribute to a child’s self-esteem, just the opposite in fact. I think that steady love and praise for something the child has worked for or done well is a good thing. I assume the best of my children and see it as part of my job to guide them when they stumble. Healthy and true self-esteem will grow from having done real good in the world as well as knowing that they are cherished and loved. Choosing the right path when in a hard situation is something worthy of admiration. I think children need to know we believe they are capable of being wonderful human beings and that they are capable of the hard work that entails. When a child has been hurt by someone else’s bullying behaviour they need to be comforted, cared for and kept safe. Being treated with compassion plants the seeds that I hope will someday bear fruit when this child offers compassion to another.

When I look at some of the situations my children have faced I think a misguided approach to building self-esteem has contributed to the bullying problem. Everyone feels they have the right to have their self-image affirmed at all times, regardless of their behaviour, and anyone who challenges their behaviour is being “mean” or “bullying them. The bullying curricula seem to have emphasized helping children speak up when they have been bullied – a very good thing – BUT I see little evidence that these programs are teaching children to recognize when their behaviour is hurting someone else. It is all about how others make me feel all the time. Even when children communicate well and say, “When you do X it makes me feel Y, please stop,” most often I find that the reaction is one of outrage and accusations of bullying. Please tell me how it works when one child takes a lunch, name calls or pulls hair, the one who says “Stop!” is the bully?

I would love to see us teaching our children (and adults for that matter) that as well as respecting and caring for themselves, they will be much happier, stronger and more capable if they can find self-esteem in making the world a better and kinder place. You can go to bed peaceful knowing you did the right thing during the day, that you made someone’s day easier or better. Everyone has a right to be loved and respected and that means that we all need to make sure we are actively offering those things to the people we interact with as well as seeking them for ourselves. It is not a one way street!

These are just some Sunday morning ramblings after nearly two months of sickness and sadness around our house. I am tired and my thoughts are not nearly as organized or well articulated as I would like so I am going to consider this the beginning rather than the end!