The Power of Words

The Power of Words

Over the past few years, bullying has become more prevalent in elementary, junior high, high school, private school and colleges. Programs and educational material have been created or improved to address this behavior in these settings. Unaddressed, this behavior becomes harassment in the workforce and abuse in close relationships. Interestingly, bullying doesn’t just occur in these contexts, it also occurs in the home…in fact there is some evidence that suggests it starts in the home.  In its basic form, bullying is the same as teasing. As parents we are all too familiar with how much teasing goes on in the home as our children tend to engage in it when our back is turned or when they feel we’re too tired to address it. There is no family that does not have some form of teasing occurring in the home. It is a developmental phenomenon as children begin to develop awareness of differences in personality, likes and dislikes, abilities and talents. Teasing also occurs out of emotional immaturity such as the complex emotion of jealousy or envy and the abstract concept of fairness.

Unchecked, teasing can quickly become bullying in the home. We must never give in to despair or give up on the fight to teach our children that teasing, and bullying are inappropriate. Our part as parents is to ensure that we have very clear and communicated boundaries around appropriate behavior and communication in the home and model that same behavior in our interactions with our spouses or partners and children. Repeated teasing and bullying should have appropriate and consistent consequences which help reinforce the boundaries in the home, keep family members safe and provides additional teaching moments for accountability, restitution and forgiveness.

Some of the negative consequences that may show up if teasing or bullying is not adequately addressed in the home is a lower self-esteem and self-worth as emotionally immature children internalize and personalize the words, put downs and abusive behavior. This can lead to isolation, internalized rage, self-harm and even suicidal thoughts or attempts. However, the positive consequences of mutual respect, consideration, love, charity and service lead to healthy self-worth, confidence, connection, resilience and compassion.

Teasing will not go away simply because it is part of the developmental process, but we can take steps to ensure it doesn’t turn into bullying. Here are some things to be aware of and implement into your home and relationships to help prevent bullying:

  1. Make sure you are modeling respect, kindness and compassion towards all you interact with.
  2. Have clear boundaries and rules in place that you have talked about with your children.
  3. Visit with your children regularly to find out about their daily experiences, emotions, beliefs, etc. to help them sort out their experiences rather than internalize them.
  4. When teasing occurs, keep your own emotions in check and invite those involved to remember the rules or if necessary, to sit down and talk with you about what is going on.
  5. Encourage accountability by asking each child what their part in the interaction was while at the same time discouraging blaming, name calling and ridiculing.
  6. Constantly express appreciation, compassion, forgiveness and love to your children despite their mistakes, differences or quarrels.
  7. Practice patience.  Change does not typically occur overnight.