So I thought it would be appropriate to discuss a worry I have been battling with for some time….a worry of parents bullying their own children.
Naturally, when we become parents we are unclear on the real challenges we will be faced with, or indeed how bringing up a child can test our own behaviour and attitude. But does this lack of wisdom allow us the right to bully our own children?
Being puzzled over an adult’s need to assert power on a child has prompted me to remember a particular episode. It seems that my thoughts have been coming back to this memory, an episode which I believe clearly highlights the dangers of a parent being too controlling, and bullying their own child.
As a family we were attending a wedding, but typically for an English summer, it had been quite a wet week leading up to the big day. Upon arrival at the party, we discovered that a bouncy castle had been organised for the kids and had been placed on the field next to the party.
Bearing in mind that we were experiencing the occasional shower, the kids were clearly excited about the prospect of trying out the bouncy castle. After all, it is much more fun being on a bouncy castle than spending time with boring adults! As a precaution, the children were told they would have to make a decision on whether they would accept their clothes getting wet from going onto the castle, or they could stay dry by remaining inside. Needless to say that none of the parents had spare clothes with them, however, most parents simply told the children that they would have to make this decision, wet or not wet clothes!
While this exchange was taking place, one particular family were also talking to their own children. The difference in the flow of conversation was that that their children were allowed outside but forbidden to go on the bouncy castle. Their children acknowledged this rule, and ventured outside to observe the fun.
Soon after, the room was by filled with wet kids, but with kids who were having a fantastic time. Parents were relaxed and quietly debating who lived closest and who had a lot of spare clothes for everyone to borrow. At this point, one of the kids, mentioned earlier, came in also wearing wet clothes because he had elected to ignore the rule of ‘not going on the bouncy castle’. While other parents were calm these parents got very angry and started to loudly berate their child for having made a stupid decision and indeed for going against their earlier stipulation. The parents continued this interaction vociferously, not giving the child a chance to communicate his feelings on the topic. At the table, the boy was made to strip down to nothing, and he had to stand up naked in front of everyone. I will not go into the phrases the parents were using as punishment or to put him down which is beside the point of this horrific situation, needless to say the boy was distraught! What was equally worrying was the fact that the parents were looking to other parents for approval for them being good at disciplining their child.
To an observer, this was a clear case of bullying, and in fact, a borderline case of abuse. There is no saying what long term effects this episode will have had on the child. I can only hope it was a one-off case of parents not knowing how to distinguish between the need to assert power and the need to let your child make a low-risk decision. We all learn from our mistakes, this is a crucial step in a child’s upbringing, they need to learn from making their own decisions. In this case, having to wear the wet clothes would have been a sufficient lesson, but being stripped naked in front of more than 100 people is a lesson taken too far.
No matter how cross you feel with your child, in order to be a non-bullying parent, you need to remain open-minded and have a willingness to be challenged in your opinions. Yes, you need to have rules in place, but these must be realistic and allow your child the opportunity to develop, experiment, make decisions and experience how they can communicate safely without being punished to such extremes. When boundaries are too limiting a child will simply rebel and withdraw from the family, in particular as they become older.
As a parent, the first step is to acknowledge the patterns of your own response behaviour, once this is changed, the dynamic between you and your child will be more positive, allowing your child to grow into a well-adjusted adult.