It’s a common tale. Child picks on other children, parent punishes child, child resents parent and continues to pick on other children. There’s more punishment, more resentment, and nothing is ever accomplished. Even if the child eventually changes their behavior, the root cause is still there, along with a rift between parent and child.
The problem lies in dealing with bullying by means of punishment. The behavior of bullying stems from a lack of empathy, compassion, and a desire to dominate someone. These are learned behaviors, often learned from the parents themselves. These same parents who turn around and punish their children for behavior that they actually use on their children, and with a punishment that looks an awful lot like bullying.
Take for example the recent viral video of a dad following his 10 year old son in a car, his son running in the rain, in front of the car, all the way to school. The son had been kicked off of the school bus for bullying, and so instead of driving the child to school, the dad makes him run, recording a video for all to see and praise his “wonderful” parenting. Um. So the dad is using his size and power to dominate over his child and force him to run to school in the rain. Sounds quite a bit like bullying to me.
Instead of reaching out to his child who is clearly going through something inside (because remember, that’s what bullying is, it’s an outer behavior that is a symptom of a problem within) and helping him through it, offering him a hand and guidance to heal whatever hurt is causing him to hurt others, he just says “I’m going to make you pay for this,” in the end causing this child to resent his father who punished instead of helped, and to continue to learn the example of domineering, no compassion, behavior.
And of course this father didn’t reach out and help his child. Because it is very likely this child learned this behavior from his father, that his underlying pain is due to a lack of empathy, kindness, and compassion from his father. Because hurt people, hurt people. And the bullied, bully. I realize this is overly simplistic. I know there are numerous other personal, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects that go into one’s decision to bully or not bully.
BUT. But I also know that the number one way we learn is through example. And I do know that as there is an obvious lack of empathy for this child based on his father’s punishment and dialogue in the video, and that this has very likely been a habit for the ten years of this child’s life. A continual example of a parent dominating his child and lacking compassion and empathy, which in turn will produce many negative behaviors in the child, and that can include bullying.
So am I saying this father should have just driven the child to school and ignored his behavior? Of course not. But what I am saying is 1) a pattern of disrespectful, domineering, and authoritarian parenting looks an awful lot like bullying and is going to continue to perpetuate the cycle of bullying and 2) the way to help this child stop bullying is kindness. KINDNESS. Show this child what to do. Give this child what he needs to give to others.
What does that look like in practice? Let’s just say that at this moment, when his son was kicked off the bus, the father decided to do something different. To get to the root of the matter and actually HELP his child. He could have done any number of things, starting with “Hey bud, what’s wrong? How can I help you? I want you to know I love you and I’m here for you.” He could have acknowledged his own behavior and recognized a mirror of himself in his son. “I know that I have treated you with a lack of respect in the past. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. You are a person and worthy of being treated like one. Just as the people you were hurting are. Let’s make a promise to work on this together. I will be more respectful of you and treat you with the kindness you deserve, and you do the same for others. We can hold each other accountable. When you feel I am out of line and not giving you a voice, nicely remind me. And I will ask you every day how you are treating others, be honest with me. We’ll work on it together when you’re having trouble.”
The father could have taken him out for ice cream and had this conversation with him there, building their relationship and showing his son that he mattered. If the father even felt it completely necessary for his child to experience walking to school after being kicked off the bus, he could have walked with him, father and son, talking and bonding along the way, showing his son that making bad choices can have consequences but that he was there with him, walking beside him no matter what. There are so many ways that this father could have helped his son and built their relationship, instead of punishing, shaming, and bullying him, only to cause resentment to build up. This father may have stopped his son from bullying people on the bus, but he definitely didn’t stop his son from having the hurt and pain that causes him to want to hurt and dominate others. In fact, he’s only solidified it.
Remember, hurt people hurt people. And it’s KINDNESS that leads to repentance.