I was standing in the kitchen making dinner and my sons, Jonah and Levi were playing all around me. Jonah was getting a little rambunctious and all of a sudden, Levi channeled this parent-like voice and said "Jonah, you need to go to timeout!" I addressed the conflict between the two boys and had to turned to the stove to hide my smirk. My four year old sounded just like me....I laughed for a second. Then I was frozen for a minute...He sounded just like me.
There are some days that as a dad I feel that I would be proud to have my son sound just like me. Then there are others where I wish there was a rewind button so I could redo some interactions. My frustrations and stress can come out towards my boys over small situations. I can say words in a tone or behave in a certain way. Their minds are sponges. They quickly take in the words, the tone and body language. My words, my tone, my actions are now creating their example for how to handle frustrations and relationships with others. Am I providing the kind of example I want them to copy?
Recently, I was meeting with a student in school and things were going well in our session when we both froze because of shouting that was taking place in the hallway. We both looked at each other and the student said, ,"Woah, someone is really mad." I tried to talk over the shouting, but all I could hear was the parent yelling profanities at the staff from the school. They continued to shout them as they were being asked to leave the building. Their words echoed down the hall. This upset parent was yelling out horrendous things to the teachers and administration in the school. I tried to stay focused, but it was hard. I was able to piece together that this parent was in the school because their child had gotten into trouble for the way in which they were treating their classmates. The students behavior made sense to me because this student was following the example of their parent.
It starts at home.
I have to admit, I was quick to pass judgment on that situation. That's when I was quickly taken back to the way in which Levi had responded to Jonah. He was following my example of how I am handling relationships. I started to think back to the examples I have given them...
....on social media, watching a recent basketball game with "bad calls" from the refs, situations at work....am I providing the kind of example I want my boys to copy?!
There has been devastating news in our area over the last few weeks. Fights, threats, weapons, and the heartbreak of successful suicides. My heart just breaks for these situations and the lives that are being impacted by these things. The words and actions of our students are gut-wrenching and alarming. The things that kids are saying to the professionals around them is horrendous. The way in which they interact with their peers is frightening. Kids can be cruel. Kids are bullies. Something has to change.
It starts at home.
My social media feed is full of the horrible tragedies in our community. Seeing the pictures of lives lost to suicide is something that I cannot shake. I keep saying to myself, something has to change. Someone needs to do something about this awful pandemic of bullying. Where are the people who are going to do something about this? That's when the words often credited to Mahatma Gandhi came to mind.
"Be the change you wish to see in the world."
Think about the ways in which your children hear you talk about others. We may be frustrated with a teacher, administrator or someone in the community. We have big feelings and emotions. We may be 100% right in how we are feeling about a situation, but our feelings are big. Our words are strong and powerful. Those big, powerful, tough feelings are then unloaded from our mouths and placed on the shoulders of our kids. Those big, tough, powerful emotions that we could not managed very well, are now the responsibility of our kids who are struggling to manage their own feelings and emotions. Our kids, burdened by our words, feelings and emotions, then carry that to our schools and with their peers. Their response? To lash out and unload those feelings onto someone else because they cannot manage the weight of them any longer. How does it show up? Bullying.
In a desperate attempt to alleviate our discomfort from the emotions, we hand it off to someone else. Like a game of emotional hot potato. I don't want to be stuck with it, so I unload it onto someone else.
THIS HAS TO STOP. We HAVE to break this cycle for the sake of our children.
It starts at home.
As we are working to break this cycle, here are a few things to keep in mind.
When you are frustrated with a situation, express your various emotions away from your children! Children are sponges and they will absorb your emotional state about another individual or situation so quickly. If you are on the phone, if you are having the discussion in person, or if you are posting to social media, do it away from your children! You can express your emotions and feelings, but protect your children from having to carry it for you by being innocent bystanders. Give yourself an Exit & Cool Off time. Allow yourself a break and have a few minutes to be frustrated about the situation, express that frustration away from your child. Then you can return to time with your kids without burdening them with your frustrations.
Watch what you say about others. When you are speaking about the school, teachers, coaches, refs, etc., keep in mind that your words are going into the mind of your child and then will come out towards others. "Stupid REF! YOU are terrible!" Our kids are watching. They are copying us. Next time you are frustrated, can you take a deep breath, walk away for a second to cool off to avoid unleashing harmful, hateful words for our kids to pick up and carry with them?
Apologize to your children when it happens. We are not perfect. We get frustrated and so in those moments when our frustration spills over and we say brutal things about someone else or a situation, apologize to your child. Let them know that your behavior was not OK and that you are working on addressing your own emotions. If we fail to acknowledge this, we are then giving our children permission to react and treat others in the same way. A simple apology and acknowledging what took place for you can be a helpful strategy in breaking that cycle so your child does not turnaround and unleash it onto one of their peers.
Address those moments with your kids when you hear them respond harshly to their peers. Talk about what is going on for them and how you might be able to help them. Allow your kids opportunities for redos to practice healthier ways of handling relationships.
Monitor their social media--kids are being bullied on so many levels and cyber bullying is brutal. Be involved in their social media, see what they are posting, texting and sharing. Intervene when you see bullying taking place. It is much easier for us to say awful, hurtful things online when we cannot see the other person. We can type viscous words much easier than we can say them and they are out there...in print for all to read and share. Make it a habit of checking on your child's social media and texts.
Our kids need us. Our communities need us to be the agents of change. Some small simple changes can make a huge impact. Don't wait for the next tragedy to think about changing your behaviors. Change starts today. Change starts with US!
-Michael Remole MA, LCPC, NCC