Whiny, arrogant, rude, violent. America’s children are showing their bad side. Child psychologist Jacob Azerrad, Ph.D., and Paul Chance, Ph.D., show us what we can do to save our children.
Michael is out of control. He has several temper tantrums a day, throws food during meals, deliberately breaks toys and household items, hits and bites his younger brother and sister and refuses to comply with reasonable requests. Asked to put away his toys or go to bed, the 5-year-old replies, “No. And you can’t make me.” He is, in truth, a very unpleasant child. He is also very unhappy: No one can behave as he does and feel good about himself or be pleased with life.
We seem to be in the midst of an epidemic of Michaels. I have been a child psychologist for 35 years, and each year I see parents dealing with more and more severe problems. Their children are not just ill-mannered; they are whiny, selfish, arrogant, rude, defiant and violent. Most of them are also miserable, as are their parents.
Such disgraceful behavior in young children predicts serious problems later in life. As adolescents they are more likely to drop out of school, use drugs, engage in delinquency and be clinically depressed. And when I read newspaper articles about road rage, commuter rage and office rage it seems to me that many out-of-control children are growing up to be out-of-control adults.
Why are there so many out-of-control children today? Many explanations have been proposed: high-sugar diets, environmental toxins, allergies, television, psychiatric disorders. In considering these theories, it is useful to note that the rise in outrageous child behavior is largely an American phenomenon. Psychologist Tiffany Field, Ph.D., of the University of Miami School of Medicine, found that in France, for example, 3-year-olds behave admirably in restaurants. They sit quietly and talk and eat their meals like “little adults.” They do not argue or throw food or refuse to eat as many American children do.
In a separate study, Field noted another major difference in the behavior of French and American preschoolers: On playgrounds, French youngsters were aggressive toward their playmates only 1 percent of the time; American preschoolers, by contrast, were aggressive 29 percent of the time. It is probably not a coincidence that France has the lowest murder rate in the industrialized world, and the United States has the highest.
Can such dramatic differences in behavior between advanced, industrialized nations be accounted for by differences in diet, toxins, allergies, television or psychiatric disorders? It seems extremely unlikely, and I have found no scientific evidence to support these theories. I suggest that the fundamental reason behind so many more American children running amok is child-rearing practices.
Let me explain: Studies have consistently shown that the problem behavior of children is typically the result of misplaced adult attention. In a study done many years ago, psychologist Betty Hart, Ph.D., and her colleagues at the University of Washington, studied the effects of attention on Bill, a 4-year-old “crybaby” enrolled in a morning preschool. Each morning Bill had between five and 10 crying spells: He cried when he fell, bumped his head or if another child took away a toy. Each time Bill cried a teacher went to him to offer comfort. Hart and her colleagues reasoned that this adult attention, though intended to reassure and comfort Bill, might actually be the reason for all his crying.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers asked the teachers to try a new strategy. Now when Bill cried, the teachers glanced at him to be sure he was not injured but did not go to him, speak to him or look at him. If he happened to cry when a teacher was nearby, she turned her back or walked away. Teachers paid special attention to Bill only when he suffered a mishap without crying. If he fell, for example, and went about his business without a whimper, a teacher would go to him and compliment him on his grown-up behavior. The result of this new approach: In five days the frequency of Bill’s crying spells fell from an average of about seven per morning to almost zero.
To be certain that Bill’s change in behavior was because of the new strategy, Hart and colleagues asked the teachers to once again pay attention to Bill when he cried. Bill returned to crying several times a day. When the teachers again ignored the crying and attended to Bill only when he acted maturely, the crying spells dropped sharply. Hart and her coworkers repeated this experiment with another “crybaby,” Alan, and got nearly identical results.
Similarly, researchers have shown that the disruptive behavior of school children is often a result of adult attention. In studies of elementary school classrooms, for example, researchers found some students repeatedly left their seats without good reason. Typically the teacher interrupted the lesson to reprimand them. But these efforts often increased the frequency of wandering. When the teacher ignored children who wandered and paid attention to those who worked hard, the frequency of the problem behavior usually fell sharply. It may seem odd that reprimands, threats and criticism can actually reward bad behavior, but such is the tremendous power of adult attention. When children can get attention by behaving well, they do.
Unfortunately, many adults are far more likely to attend to annoying behavior than they are to desirable behavior. Glenn Latham, Ed.D., a family and educational consultant, has found that adults typically ignore 90 percent or more of the good things children do. Instead, they pay attention to children when they behave badly.
I believe that Americans attend more to bad behavior than to good behavior because they have come under the spell of self-described child-rearing authorities. These kiddie gurus–who include pediatrician Benjamin Spock, M.D., child psychiatrists T. Barry Brazelton, M.D., and Stanley Turecki, M.D., and child psychologist Ross W. Greene, Ph.D., among others–repeatedly urge parents to give special attention to children when they behave badly. Consider the following example.
In Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care (Pocket Books, 1998), a book that has sold 40 million copies, Dr. Spock recommends this approach in dealing with aggressive behavior:
“If your child is hurting another or looks as if he were planning murder, pull him away in a matter-of-fact manner and get him interested in something else.”
Given what research shows about the effects of adult attention, getting a child “interested in something else” whenever he is aggressive is a sure formula for producing a highly aggressive child.
If a child gets angry and throws or smashes things, Dr. Brazelton suggests the following:
“Sit down with her in your lap until she’s available to you. Then, discuss why you think she needed to do it, why she can’t do it and how badly you know she feels for this kind of destructive, out-of-control behavior.”
If your child has a particularly intense tantrum, Dr. Turecki gives this advice:
“With these tantrums you should be physically present with your child, with your arms around him if he’ll permit it or just be there with him as a comforting physical presence in the room. Be calm and say reassuring things: ‘I know you’re upset, but it will be okay.'”
If the child has a tantrum that is not so intense, Turecki recommends being “menacing and firm.” In other words, having a mild tantrum doesn’t pay off, but having a severe tantrum does. I can scarcely imagine a more effective way of teaching a child to have severe tantrums.
Many of the most popular child-rearing books are full of such nonsense. They repeatedly urge parents to hold, soothe, comfort and talk to a child who bites, hits, screams, throws or breaks things, ignores or refuses parental requests or otherwise behaves in obnoxious, infantile ways. Common sense and a truckload of research argue solidly against this practice. Yet these experts seem to be unaware of the well-established fact that children do what gets noticed, that adult attention usually makes behavior more likely to occur, not less.
Nevertheless, thousands of parents follow the bad advice of these and like-minded child-rearing gurus every day. And the more faithfully they follow the advice, the worse their children become. Some of these parents eventually find their way to my office, desperate for help. I advise them to redirect their attention from infantile behavior to grown-up behavior. They are often amazed by the change in their children.
Take Dennis, for example. Ten-year-old Dennis was a “born liar,” according to his mother, who added, “he wouldn’t tell the truth if his life depended on it.” Dennis had several siblings, but he was the only chronic liar. Why Dennis? With several children in the family, there was a good deal of competition for adult attention. Dennis wanted more than his share, and he got it by lying: His mother spent a lot of time with him trying to separate fact from fiction and trying to understand why he lied. Mom didn’t realize it, but all this attention just encouraged dishonesty.
The solution was to give Dennis attention when it was clear he was telling the truth and to ignore him when he might be lying. When Mom knew that Dennis had given her the right amount of change after a purchase, or when a discrete call to his teacher proved that he really had been kept after school, he got time with Mom and approval for telling the truth. Instead of “tell a lie, get attention,” the rule became, “tell the truth, get attention.” When the rule changed, so did Dennis.
Five-year-old Debbie offered a different sort of challenge, but the solution was essentially the same. She woke up every night screaming because of nightmares about “the big germ” and “the terrible lion.” Every night her parents rushed to her side to comfort her and assure her there were no big germs or terrible lions in the house. During the day, Debbie talked about her nightmares with anyone who would listen. Her mother encouraged this behavior because she thought it would be therapeutic for Debbie to get her fears “out in the open.” In fact, all this attention to her fears made them worse, not better. From Debbie’s standpoint, the lesson was: “If Mom and Dad are so interested in what I say about the big germ and the terrible lion, these monsters must really exist.”
The solution to Debbie’s problem was to pay less attention to talk about nightmares and more attention to grown-up behavior. When Mom and Dad started saying things like, “I appreciated it when you helped me set the table today” and “I heard you taking the phone message from Mrs. Smith. You were very grown up,” they provided Debbie with better ways of getting attention than screaming in the night and complaining about monsters.
Even Michael, the screaming, out-of-control boy who made life miserable for himself and everyone near him, soon became a happy, self-disciplined child. He was more challenging than most children, but once again the most important step to turning him around was giving him the attention he wanted when he gave his parents the behavior they wanted.
It sounds easier than it is. Parents who have fallen into the habit of offering attention for disagreeable behavior often have a hard time shifting their focus to agreeable behavior. Over the years I have devised a simple procedure to help parents do this. I call it the Nurture Response:
- Be on the alert for behavior that indicates growing maturity: Taking disappointment calmly, performing spontaneous acts of kindness and demonstrating an interest in learning. When you see this kind of grown-up behavior, make a mental note of it. Perhaps Margaret, who usually responds to disappointments with a tantrum, is unperturbed when told her favorite breakfast cereal is unavailable. Maybe Sam, who is typically selfish with his belongings, shares his toys with the neighbor’s child.
- Some time later (anywhere from five minutes to five hours after the event), remind the child of the behavior you observed. You might say, “Do you remember when Harry’s bike fell over and he couldn’t straighten it because it was too heavy for him? You went over and helped him. Do you remember doing that?”
- When you’re sure the child remembers the event in question, praise her for it. You might say, “It was very good of you to help Harry with his bike. I’m proud of you.” Often the highest praise you can offer children is to tell them they acted like an adult. You might say, “I know you were disappointed that you couldn’t go to the mall, but you were very grown up about it. I was impressed.”
Don’t mix the praise with criticism. Don’t say, for example, “I was proud of the way you helped Harry; you’re usually so mean to him,” or even, “I’m glad you were finally nice to Harry.”
- Immediately after praising the child, spend some time with him in an activity he enjoys. Do this in a spontaneous way, without suggesting that it is payment for the grown-up behavior. You might play a favorite game, go for a walk, or read a story. Remember that nothing is more important to a child than the undivided attention of a parent, so give the child your full attention for these few minutes.
The nurture response is not a panacea, of course. Some dangerous or extremely annoying forms of behavior, such as knocking other children down or having screaming tantrums, may require additional measures, including punishment (see “Time Out the Right Way,” page 46). But it is amazing how much can be accomplished by simply ignoring the behavior you don’t want and noticing the behavior you do want.
For decades many child-rearing icons have urged parents to pay special attention to troublesome behavior, to offer sympathy, understanding and reassurance when children behave in outrageous ways. This view so pervades our society that scarcely anyone questions it. Both common sense and scientific evidence tell us, however, that this approach is bound to backfire, and it does.
Parents should think of themselves as gardeners. A good gardener encourages desirable plants and discourages undesirable ones. In the same way, a good parent encourages desirable acts and discourages undesirable ones.
Do you want your children to be well-behaved and happy? Then ignore experts who tell you to shower attention on children when they are badly behaved and miserable. Remember that gardeners must nurture the flowers, not the weeds.
TIME OUT THE RIGHT WAY
Most of the annoying things children do can be dealt with very effectively by ignoring them and attending to children when they behave more maturely. However, when the behavior is particularly immature or poses a risk of injury to the child or others, it may be necessary to turn to punishment. In these instances, Time Out usually does the trick.
Time Out is probably the most widely researched technique for dealing with unwanted behavior in young children. Unfortunately, it is often used incorrectly. It is therefore worth noting that Time Out means removing the child from all rewarding activities for a short period. The common practice of sending a child to his room, where he can play computer games, watch TV or talk with friends on the telephone, is not Time Out, nor is sitting on the couch with the child and discussing the merits of his behavior. Time Out means exposing the child to a very boring, unrewarding environment. For the sake of illustration, let’s assume that your child has bitten someone. Here is a simple, highly effective way of discouraging this behavior:
- Say to her: “We do not bite.” Say nothing more than this–give no further description of the behavior, no explanation of what you are doing. Say nothing except, “We do not bite.”
- Take her by the hand and seat her in a small chair facing a blank wall. Stand close enough so that if she attempts to leave the chair you can immediately return her to it.
- Keep her in the chair for three minutes. (Do not tell her how long she will be in the chair. Say nothing.) If she screams, kicks the wall, asks questions or says she has to go to the bathroom, ignore her. It is absolutely essential that you say nothing.
- At the end of the three minutes, keep her in the chair until she has been quiet and well-behaved for five more seconds. When she does so, tell her she has been good and may now leave the chair. Never let her leave until she has been well-behaved for at least a few seconds.
- Following Time Out, say nothing about it. Do not discuss the punished behavior or the fairness of the punishment. Say nothing except, “We do not bite.”
Once the child realizes that you mean business, that she cannot manipulate you into providing attention for bad behavior, Time Out will proceed more smoothly and quickly and there will be far fewer times when you need to use it.
Only adults are under stress right? Well not really. Stress is relative to situations and age. Worrying about paying your bills at the age of forty is probably the equivalent of worrying about having your lunch money stolen at the age of ten. So kids do worry, suffer from anxiety and feel the discomfort of stressful situations as much as an adult. A parent or a teacher may not take the child’s stress as seriously because they have their own stress and the kids stress just seems to be hard to understand. They may communicate their worry to us and it may get blown off with words like “don’t worry about it, or when I was your age, or you don’t know how good you have it.”
Mom and Dad Can’t Do It
Adults don’t manage stress well in our society; and there is a lot to be stressful about: the economy, unemployment, relationships, and their own upbringing; which has everyone dragging the baggage of their own imprint from childhood into adulthood. That youth conflict that they had at the age of ten is now an adult conflict and they are still searching for answers to some of life’s most basic problems and that includes how to handle stress.
From an evolutionary standpoint the brain stem or the reptilian brain developed first, that’s where the heart rate, respiration and adrenalin flow comes from. Something the caveman needed as he battled and hunted animals for food or ran away from when he was at a disadvantage and felt like he was going to lose the battle. That type of stress was necessary for survival and one minute or two of this type of stress helped keep this guy healthy and fed. But what happens when a brain is placed under stress for years, like thirteen; the amount of time that a kid spends in school. Stress hormones end up swamping our bodies for days, weeks, months. Research shows that cortisol, specifically, chews up the brain if it loiters there long-term. When lab rats in Israel, Germany, USA, China, and Italy were given daily injections of rat cortisol for several weeks, it killed brain cells in their hippo-campus region, leaving them depressed, anxious, fearful, immature, needy, and unable to learn new behaviors.
None of this is good for the adult brain, but children’s fast-developing brains with dendrites numbering in the millions are especially vulnerable to the ravages of cortisol. Study after study has found that children who are exposed to extremely stressful situations — via violence in the home or corporal punishment — have significantly lower IQ’s than children not exposed to such traumas.
Different Reasons For Stress
In a modern society we don’t battle saber tooth tigers, our stress come from slow drivers, our kids, our boss, and at times our spouse, and other things that frankly we have very little control over. We worry, fret, get uneasy when we have to have a confrontation and we assume too many responsibilities that we were never intended to have. For sure at times we put ourselves in bad situation because of poor choices and the lack of self control by over eating, drinking, spending, and by going crazy when the toothpaste tube doesn’t have a cap on it. Unwittingly we put our minds and bodies under constant stress and we operate in a state of constant survival. The primary function of the brain is survival of its owner and all that stress puts us in survival mode daily with those stress hormones eroding our brains. We will either run or fight but in reality as a society we don’t handle stress very well. It makes us sick, obese, it could result in the onset of high blood pressure, heart problems and type 2 diabetes. We meditate, exercise, practice yoga, seek therapy, and when all else fails we begin to believe in God again and pray.
Our Kids Need The Help
A bleak picture you say. Well yes it is, but things will get bleaker if we don’t help our kids manage stress and develop the resiliency to cope with the trials of life. There are more young people today who are anxious, depressed, and who fear age appropriate responsibilities then in past generations. Responsibilities that are just basic to a household like taking out the garbage or to school like completing a homework assignment. This fear of responsibility has resulted in higher levels of anxious and depressed adolescents than ever before. In America today, high school and college students are five to eight times as likely to suffer from depressive symptoms as were teenagers 50 or 60 years ago, according to Psychology Today.
Responsibilities Produce Pressure
When kids are not held accountable for their responsibilities and are let off the hook they begin to view their responsibilities as nothing more than pressure from adults. They are completely aware of what they need to do but lack the motivation and the desire to complete tasks or follow through on requests from anyone. This awareness with age activates that fight or flight mechanism that we mentioned earlier and kids will either start arguments when they are confronted by an adult with a request (like completing a homework assignment, or taking out the garbage) or run for the hills and disappear when there is work to be done. This now young adult feels the stress and may become anxious or depressed. They can get labeled as lazy, disaffected, unmotivated, and careless. They may seek to ease the stress through the use of a substance such as alcohol or a prescription medication that is gotten either legally or illegally and may begin to think hypochondriacally. (Believing that they may become or are seriously ill)
Responsible Behavior Can Reduce Stress
Do we need to help kids manage stress in a more effective manner or do we need to help kids take their responsibilities more seriously? Irresponsible behavior leads to stress. What is done in moderation as a child gets done in excess as an adult and adults currently are not managing stress very well. The model that the kids are getting is one that stress gets handled by drinking, eating, spending, or medicating. Mom and Dad may just be producing children that manage stress far less effectively than they did and they weren’t very successful.
So let’s teach our kids to manage stress more effectively right? Wrong. Let’s teach our kids to be more responsible adults and instead of running or fighting help them learn to see responsibility as an opportunity rather than pressure.
Looking For The Plan? Jim Burns’ New Book ” Helping Kids Manage Stress” will be out in the spring of 2016. You can pre-order in the comments section.
My dad and mom owned a bar so at a very early age it became very easy for me to be around people who drank all the time. From the time I was a kid I thought that the whole world drank and got drunk. My dad was a binge drinker and he would go of on a bender every six months or so. He would be gone from one to three days. I always asked my mom where dad slept when he was gone and she would say in the car. I wasn’t sure who drove who crazier, mom or dad. Dad would drink and drive mom nuts, but when dad was sober mom would say things to dad to get under his skin. So I wasn’t sure if mom drove dad to drink or dad’s drinking drove my mom to make those comments. I didn’t really drink as a teenager but started to drink when I go married the first time. I drank a lot during the summer, and when I bar tended at a restaurant in Belmar NJ. As I became unhappy in my marriage I drank more and more until my drinking got a little out of control and I became frightened of my own behavior and my thoughts. If you want to discover a whole lot about an illness or a condition all you have to do is get it or think that you have it and you will start to read all there is to read about it in books, magazines, online or any place you can find the info. I came across this acronym in a book, ACOA. What the hell does this mean? Well it means Adult Child of an Alcoholic. I read more and discovered that somebody hooked a bunch of symptoms to the conditions, 13 to be exact. What an unlucky number. Let me enumerate them here:
1. Guess at what normal is.
2. Have difficulty in following a project through from beginning to end.
3. Lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
4. Judge themselves without mercy.
5. Have difficulty having fun.
6. Take themselves very seriously.
7. Have difficulty with intimate relationships.
8. Overreact to changes over which they have no control.
9. Constantly seek approval and affirmation.
10. Feel that they are different from other people.
11. Are either super responsible or super irresponsible.
12. Are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that loyalty is undeserved.
13. Have money dysfunction, such as hiding it or being disorganized with it.
After reading this list and the article associated with the list I concluded that I was an ACOA, dysfunctional, needed therapy, was warped, hated my parents, and had no business being married to a girl that I had known for ten years. Great, so now what? Well now I come up with a lot of excuses for my behavior, acted more like an idiot than ever before, get into therapy, and divorced my wife. I began to walk around and wonder if every move I made was related to me being an ACOA. I began to argue for my own weaknesses and became more and more irresponsible. This went on for about five years until I started to learn the benefits of my time in history and my up bringing. There are benefits to our up bringing. Too often we look at the downside of how we were raised. I was a baby-boomer as was everyone else in my age bracket and I would bet that many of us have looked back at their life and began to wonder how did I ever get this way. I figured that I could go on hating my life or I could look at what benefit this up bringing did for me and I could use my past to help improve the future. Now I started to take a better look at things when I was about 36 years old (in case you’re wondering I am 60 now) and when my youngest daughter Grace was about 8 years old and I was about 49 I started to realize that this ACOA thing is not an emotional death sentence but rather an opportunity that everybody has to really put things in perspective for themselves and for their own children.
One day about three years ago I was riding around in the car with my daughter Grace and I told her a story about my dad that we both found very amusing and we laughed to tears. I had always told Grace stories about my dad as a matter of fact she started to ask me to tell her a story so we could both laugh really hard. One day she came to me with a list of stories, there were 12 of them about my dad that she kept track of on paper. All of the stories that I told her were stories that came out of that dreaded ACOA environment that I lived in. You know the place that screwed me up. They were so funny now that it didn’t matter that my dad had the personality of an alcoholic, all Grace knows is that I don’t, and she and I can laugh together about all of the insanity that I went through as a kid. How great is that.
1. Listen without Interrupting
2. Speak without Accusing
3. Give without Sparing
4. Confront without Condemning
5. Answer without Arguing
6. Share without Pretending
7. Enjoy without Complaining
8. Trust without Wavering
9. Forgive without Punishing
10. Promising without Forgetting
Well there they are 10 great ways to build any relationship. That is to build; I mean this stuff doesn’t happen over night. We may like things to happen fast but when it comes down to people expectations are always a problem, and what we expect we never get in whole and the parts that we get are never really enough. We have to learn to be patient with those that are family members, loved ones, and co-workers. We can’t keep pulling up the flowers to see how the roots are doing, and we can’t count on others to do these things for us. So, we have to take the time to work on these things and model them ourselves. They require self awareness, empathy, respect, kindness, and at times the ability to be truthful with our own shortcomings. So, let’s take a look at these and work through the process one at a time. For me writing this article is almost like therapy because what I have discovered is that more often then not I have failed at many of them.
Listen Without Interrupting
There are five types of listening: Ignoring, pretend listening, selective listening, attentive listening, and empathic listening. Most people listen to respond and don’t truly try to understand what another is saying. Their minds can be on another planet that is buried under their own problems and headaches. They are always looking to get a word in and are always there with some type of advice or backyard psychology. They pretend and select and only connect to what is familiar to them. Good listeners have empathy, and can put themselves in the shoes of the speaker. They truly work to understand and can make every word that comes out of the mouth of the speaker the most important words they will ever hear. The ability to listen and understand in empathic way is so important to our children, our spouses, and our loved ones and for some reason they seem to always get the short end of the stick. We fight, we argue, and we ignore those that are closest to us and we want to appear to be good listeners to those that are casual acquaintances, or co-workers. Try and just listen to the people that are closest to you and build a relationship with them first, then listening to others without interrupting will become part of who you are and it will become second nature.
Speak Without Accusing
“What have you done NOW!” or “NOT AGAIN.” These are two phrases that we want to eliminate from our conversations. Now and Again; it almost sounds like a candy bar. But, in reality what they communicate is not very sweet at all. The word NOW communicates that you are fed up with persistent behavior that just aggravates and insights you to anger and the word AGAIN communicates that I told you I didn’t like what you said or did in the past and you just are not listening to me. Our words need to be seasoned with salt and spoken in a manner that shows the same patience that we would like to have shown to us. Often the lack of patience that we have with ourselves is mirrored to others and we accuse them of a poor attitude, when in reality it us with the problem. People never do things to us without our permission. When we accuse someone of making us angry or upset, we have allowed it. This just gives us an excuse for our own poor attitude.
Give Without Sparing
Can we ever give enough? I don’t just mean money; I mean time, love, and effort. At times these things can mean more to a relationship than money. They also can be harder to give. You can give your son or your daughter a $10 bill, but how about 10 minutes. You can say I love you but how about doing the dinner dishes. You can say I am proud of your performance but how about being there to watch a game or an award ceremony. At home, on the job, or in life in general talk is cheap and money is easier to give than our time, love, or effort. Going the extra mile on our job and not looking for something in return can be a tall order but it communicates to our employer and to others that we care, we are consistent, and we don’t cut corners.
Confront Without Condemning
Everyone seems to fear confrontations, when in reality a confrontation when done correctly can reveal the truth and strengthen any relationship. The problem is we tend to set our boundaries in anger. So, when a confrontation occurs it usually turns into a verbal free for all with words being spoken that do nothing but damage a relationship. Confrontations shouldn’t divide people they should bring them closer together. Families that have confrontations and fights at times could go years without speaking to each other. This creates such a gap that cousins, aunts, uncles, parents, and children become like the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s feuding their entire lives. The blame game gets played and everyone fears the next wedding or maybe a funeral for fear of running into Uncle Charlie who they haven’t spoken to since that argument that they had ions ago. So let’s speak the truth for sure but always leave enough space in a conversation for a disagreement. And when we disagree do it right away without holding it in and ultimately holding a grudge. Remember the worst conversation that we can have is the one that we think we had. Revisit old conversation from time to time to clarify expectations and don’t spread rumors and gossip amongst family members or co-workers. Always confront but never condemn.
Answer Without Arguing
My dad owned a bar of which I spent a fair amount of time in talking to his customers. At 18 I started bartending there. I was taught never argue with a customer for all of the obvious reasons. On any given day one customer would make a statement another would disagree and an argument would break out. No one just answered a question. Oh, they did but they always seemed to follow their answer with their point of view and let the other guy know just how dumb he was. Needlessly to say some relationships were rather strained. In your home or on the job if a question gets asked just answer it. There really is no reason to start an argument. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, even your children. Often when a question is asked our response might be “why are you asking” or “why do you feel that way” which does nothing more than open a can of worms and starts an argument. Just answer the question, and enjoy the conversation.
Share Without Pretending
Strings, oh those dreaded strings that always seem to be attached to the things we do for other people. We all try to share from the heart, but always feel slighted when the person we shared with doesn’t reciprocate in some way, shape, or form. After all I have done for you becomes the cry when we get fed up with getting nothing in return. The good feelings that we get from sharing should end there with no expectations attached. This is hard, very hard; especially with our children. We share unceasingly only to find out in the latter stages of our life our kids can’t stand seeing our name light up in the caller ID of their phone. We pretended that there were no strings, but in reality there were and when we feel unappreciated those strings are pulling on the wreckage of a broken heart. We can share our life on a job and then discover that the place that we worked can live with us or without us as we stand on the unemployment line. We can’t fake it or pretend but sharing with an open heart can make us very vulnerable and we have to be ready to be real in the things that we share.
Enjoy Without Complaining
Have you ever been asked to go somewhere that you didn’t really want to go? Or maybe you were asked to do something that you really didn’t want to do. Did you go, or did you do it anyway? Well, if you did what was your attitude like while you were going or doing? Often a wife will ask a husband to go or do things that he really doesn’t want to do, but he does it. But, it is done with such a rotten attitude that his wife wishes that he didn’t go or do. When we do things especially things for another person we should do our best to enjoy what we are doing and not complain about where we are our where we are going. Of course if you don’t want to do or go you should make it as clear as day with a loving attitude and the reasons why we may not want to participate. While we are doing and going we shouldn’t complain but enjoy the time spent with our loved ones, friends, or colleagues.
Trust Without Wavering
We can’t trust someone that is not trustworthy. That person has previously provided us with all of the evidence to support our belief and he/she should not be trusted. If we have been lied to in the past it is extremely tough to trust others, especially those that we are in a relationship with. A good rule of thumb though is to trust until you have the evidence not to trust. Oh, don’t get me wrong, don’t look for it, but try and not be suspicious. That suspicion can only lead to jealousy which can have a damaging influence on any relationship. In the final analysis the only person that we have control over is ourselves. So, always be a trustworthy person and you will set the example for those around you.
Forgive Without Punishing
We should all practice forgiveness, but how difficult is it to forget. Let’s face it unless we get amnesia we are not going to forget when we have been wronged or slighted in a relationship. So to say that we should forgive and forget is something that is very unrealistic to ask. What is true forgiveness though? True forgiveness is defined as: “Completely releasing an offender from the ongoing consequences of their actions.” When we say I accept your apology we do so full well knowing that the thoughts of the person’s actions will never leave our mind. We are the only one that is in charge of our own thoughts. Even after we forgive we should always be aware that the temptation to keep revisiting the hurt only keeps punishing and re-punishing our offender. If we have been offended by a family member, such as a spouse or our children their presence will be a constant reminder of their actions. If we have been offended by our boss or a co-worker our time at work will be all that more difficult. Gaining control of our own thoughts is the only way to practice forgiveness without punishing.
Promise Without Forgetting
Promises need to made very sparingly should never be made without understanding all of the variables that are related to the promise. Our children and even our loved ones may hang on our words and count on the promises that we make. If we say we are going to do something, and follow through with our actions we will build greater respect and trust in the relationships that we have with our significant others. If we say it we should do it, we should finish what we start, and we should be consistent. Talk is very cheap and we should remember what we say, because if we don’t others will.
The word is out. Bullying will not be tolerated. Schools, communities, and society have now drawn the line. Students will be disciplined in school for it, employees and employers will be held accountable for acts of harassment and intimidation, and everyone must be on guard in terms of what they say and how they act. The internet is filled with anti bullying programs, campaigns, lesson plans, strategies, and self help sites. States across the country have now passed anti bullying legislation, and New Jersey is leading the way with its Anti Bullying Bill of Rights. That’s it. NO MORE BULLYING! Well, I hate to disappoint everyone but bullying is not the problem; the root problem at least. Bullying is the result of the problem. It is the symptom of deep seeded anger (bitterness), the desire to do what we want and get what we want when we want it (greed) and the consequences of our past behaviors that were left uncorrected (guilt).
We are quite a society. Better yet, quite a country. Anytime we see a problem we create a law or we throw money at it with the hopes that it will go away. That’s right. A kid kills himself because of being bullied into emotional submission so let’s create a law that says, NO MORE BULLYING. Makes sense, I guess. But what about the kids or adults who bully? What is their real problem? What makes them want to act out the way they do? Remember, bullying is the symptom. Why treat the symptom? It only provides temporary relief, not permanent help. Did you ever have chest pains? Take a Tylenol, the pain might go away but you are still going to have a heart attack. Let’s take a look at the REAL problem.
Parents today don’t really take the time to get to know their own children. Most times when they talk to their kid they are usually disciplining them and they really don’t know how to discipline. Parents are usually reactive. Their kid does something wrong and they flip. No balance of rules and regulations with love and understanding. You see kids are born with the innate ability to do the wrong thing. If you think this is off base just remember the first words you wanted your two year old to understand. NO, NO, NO. The social and emotional window for the brain closes around the age of five years old. In other words, a child’s perception of the world around him is formed by five. Their conclusions have been drawn, but they still have a fear of disagreeing with their parents for now. They have a good memory and if their parents were unfair, reactive, lacked empathy, and disciplined out of sheer anger the kid will remember. As a child’s bravado increases he begins to take risks and starts to disagree with mom and dad. Around the age of ten the child goes through something called mental puberty. That’s when about 3% of the kid’s brain starts to think like an adult. Then the arguments start. They don’t have to, but they do. Why, because of the parents inability to teach their child one very important skill that will in the final analysis produce life- long success. The child needs to be taught how to disagree with the right attitude. It sounds simple, right. Wrong, it’s hard. Why, because the parent doesn’t know how to get out of their own way. So, what do they do, they argue with their kid. No discipline, no love, they just argue. The parent themselves may have grown physically, but not emotionally. This arguing produces a sense of fear and intimidation in the home with the child’s perception being that’s how I get what I want. Argue. The child becomes more and more angry because guess what? He is not going to win; at least not for now, probably never. But, he will seek revenge for sure. The child will begin to become disrespectful, uncooperative and irresponsible. By the way, the manifestation of disrespect in a child is laziness. It’s not that he doesn’t want to take out the garbage; he just doesn’t want to take it out for you. A sense of despair begins to develop in the child as he/she moves into their teen years and another conclusion is drawn. This is a tough one. The now teen begins to believe; “I can’t please my parents anyway, no matter what I do, so what is the use in trying.” Ah, the bitterness is starting to creep in. The difference between anger and bitterness is anger is episodic and usually goes away within a short period of time. Bitterness is like a seed that grows in a child and becomes a tree by the time they become an adult. They are never happy, judgmental, and uncooperative, love to spread gossip, can’t take orders, disrespectful, and irresponsible. These qualities are pretty well disguised for a while. But once the person enters into a relationship the qualities begin to drip out. By the way, some of the people that a person meets may appear to have qualities that are just over the top in terms of how nice they are. They are patient, kind, understanding, polite, etc., but give it time. Remember too good is no good.
Now, how does all of this relate to bullying? These now bitter young adults get married, with no knowledge of how to raise or discipline children. They may have been victimized in their own home, by parents or even their siblings. They may have left home in rebellion because of the desire to get away from their parents. They may not even speak to their parents. They feel victimized by life and are self centered with no knowledge of how to be a good spouse or a parent. They are bitter victims. That bitterness is now taken out on their spouse and children. The message that their children learn is, I get what I want through fear and intimidation and that becomes their standard of comparison. They enter school with that attitude and ultimately become the next generation of bullies. No one wants to admit that bullying is an inter-generational problem but if we are going to begin to put an end to this epidemic it may require the healing of two or maybe three generations.
When I worked as a high school administrator, I spoke with hundreds of parents, and was stunned to find out that these parents did not speak at all to their own parents because of a riff that they had when they were teenagers. I realize that some parents have done things that are absolutely unforgiveable which requires therapy, and if therapy is needed, get it for the sake of you marriage and your children. But, if your relationship with your parents is affecting your life right now, and it requires a conversation that could result in forgiveness, do it. Bitterness is the root problem for many behaviors that people exhibit right now. Parents who have difficulty disciplining their own children need to take a look at themselves and what their relationship is or was like with their own parents. It is a known fact that people who have problems in this area lose their perception in life and can’t even recognize right and wrong behavior. Remember when someone loses control the end result is a negative reaction. Understanding bitterness, the first root problem, is the first step a person must take to help begin to solve the problems that bullying is causing in our schools and in our society.
I want what I want when I want it; a two year old mentality. The problem is society today we have adults with this same mentality. Have you taken a close look at our economy? How do you think we have gotten into this financial fix? People wanting what they want when they want it, like a house, they can’t afford. How about the epidemic of obesity, or drug and alcohol addiction? It gets to a point that it is all about want and has nothing to do with need. How about power? We all want it right? Do we need it? How about control, same thing. A two year old child learns the ropes quickly when it comes down to getting his parents to do what he/she wants when they want it. Throw a tantrum and young parents find themselves at a loss when it comes down to how to stop it. They don’t know how to discipline we’ve already said that. So, give him/her what they want and the tantrum subsides, until the next time. What parents don’t know is the next time will be in a grocery store or some other public place. The greed for power and control is a direct result of a lack of self control.
Bullies love power and control. They crave it. They love holding someone as an emotional hostage. A child who is given power and control in a home will crave it as he/she grows older and begin to see this type of behavior as “normal.” They will begin to develop an entitlement mentality; a mentality that no parent wants to admit to. I really don’t have a problem with people who crave money, houses, and other expensive items, as long as they can afford it and don’t believe that they deserve it and are entitled to it. A good work ethic always assures someone of getting these desired material things. When one uses power and control to get what they want that’s where the line has to be drawn.
Bullies use their greed for power and control to manipulate others, intimidate, and to instill fear into the heart and mind of their victims. This greed coupled with a lack of empathy produces a self centered and self absorbed person who will do anything to get what they want. Working on the conscience of a bully by speaking with him about his behavior may help. But, as we all know you can’t grow a conscience. Character education is the answer to this problem, but as teachers we get kids when it may be too late, and the greed for power and control has already become part of their way of life. The quality that needs to be taught is gratefulness. Gratefulness vs. Unthankfulness – Letting others know by my words and actions how they have benefited my life. Tough to teach, kids need a model. I guess we all have to wok on this if the next generation of kids is going to have a shot.
Guilt is a necessary emotion that keeps us from doing things that we know are wrong and that could hurt others. Too often though, the guilt engulfs us after we have done something that unwittingly hurt others or had an effect on out family or life in general. Parents are usually plagued by this emotion while watching their children grow into adult hood. They are overwhelmed watching their son/daughter make poor decisions that have a negative impact on their life. This guilt sits in the heart of a parent because for some reason they wish that they just had done some things differently that would have helped their son or daughter avoid the pitfalls that are having unending consequences in their life. What could they have done differently? The answer might surprise you.
At a very young age children don’t know right from wrong. They have to be taught and they have to be corrected. They also have learned how to get away with things like lying, sneaking, and at times even stealing. Children who are left uncorrected begin to believe that their parents by default agree with their behavior. This is not always intentional. For example kids sneak all the time. I might not see my daughter coloring behind the clothes in the closet on the wall with crayons, but she knows she did it and she knows that it is wrong; just the fact that she knows that it’s wrong produces guilt. That guilt produces in a child and I can’t put it any other way a rotten attitude. Children are waiting to be corrected. They want to be corrected; the reason, because it clears their conscience for every other past offense. Attitude is rarely corrected, behavior is, and correcting the behavior improves a child’s attitude. It helps improve an adult’s attitude as well. Just listen to some criminals who are locked up in prison for their crimes when they are interviewed. They are contrite and apologetic for what they did. Unfortunately it took a prison sentence to do it.
What does all of this have to do with bullying? I think that it is obvious. The lack of correction leading to the guilt and the rotten attitude produces behaviors that violate the rights and privileges of other people. It produces disrespect, a lack of empathy, an entitlement mentality. These three behaviors give you the definition of a bully.
Correction is the key if we are going to begin to take a bite out of this bullying epidemic. Without it guilt will permeate the hearts and minds of our young people. Correction takes on many forms from a good talking to a prison sentence, but it is something that must be done. It should be balanced, by enforcing rules and regulations with compassion and understanding. Discipline comes from the root word disciple which means to teach. It is not enough to just discipline for behaviors that are inappropriate. Parents and teachers must continually proact and teach behaviors like respect, responsibility, compliance, and empathy each and every day providing them with the tools that are necessary for life long success.