If you spend any time at all around children, you know they can be incredibly sweet and incredibly mean in the time it takes for the heart to beat another beat. They don’t always mean to be mean. Sometimes it just happens. You know what I’m talking about—one toddler takes another toddler’s toy and within seconds you have an all-out toy room brawl on your hands. Or when someone makes fun of your second-grader’s haircut they strike back out of the need to mask their hurt and humiliation.
There comes a time, however, when these outbursts of meanness are no longer reflexes or ‘innocent’ acts of self-preservation. There comes a time when children mistreat others because they want to…because it gives them a sense of power…because they think it is okay to make fun of someone else…because they can. But parents, hear me loud and clear when I say it is NEVER EVER okay for your child to make fun of someone and it is your job as a parent to teach and reinforce this essential life-lesson.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—I’m far from being the perfect parent, but this is one of the things I know I got right. All four of my children demonstrated this on numerous occasions, but one of the most vivid recollections of this comes from my son, Zach.
Zach was a runner—both track and cross country. No, Zach was a really good runner. He broke school records and was awarded numerous gold, silver and bronze medals to ‘prove’ his skill. Had they awarded medals for good sportsmanship and teamwork, too, Zach would have earned gold in those ‘events’, too. You see, there was a boy on Zach’s track and cross country teams who was looked at as strange…odd…nerdy…or whatever similar word you would like to insert there. He was the kid no one sat with at lunch, the one who got his books knocked out of his hands and all those ridiculous, mean-spirited high school shows of immaturity. On top of that, this boy consistently finished last. Dead last. But each and every time this boy came across the finish line, he did so with Zach cheering him on; clapping, encouraging and saying, “Way to finish, “Forrest””.
Zach and I never really talked about why he did it, but I knew. He did it because he knew it was the right thing to do. He knew this young man deserved to feel valued and respected for finishing. Yes, he may have always finished last, but he always finished and Zach knew what it took to do so.
Teaching your children to see life through the eyes of others—especially those they see as fodder for ridicule, humiliation, pranks and bullying—is a gift to everyone and a valuable lesson in compassion, honor and integrity.
I’m sure Zach wasn’t always a gold medalist in the way he treated others. In fact, I’m sure his sisters would vouch for thatJ. Hey, no one is perfect. But I am sure he knows it is never okay to be a bully and that everyone deserves to be treated fairly and with kindness.
With all the pressure put on kids today to be the best…at the top of the heap…number one…to look ‘just so’ and all the other junk society throws at them, it can be difficult for them to understand that it is NOT okay to mistreat others and that winning at all costs is NOT okay. As a parent, you MUST teach and model behavior that says just the opposite—that treating others the way you want to be treated is what life is really all about.