Editor’s Note: Jodee Blanco, author of Please Stop Laughing at Me, is a guest writer for Peanut Butter & Grace. To read more about Blanco’s journey and work with the National Catholic Education Association, see the end of this article.
by Jodee Blanco
I’m a survivor of school bullying who works inside America’s schools with students, teachers and parents to motivate change. One of the questions I always get from the adults is, “What’s the best way to punish the bullies so they’ll think twice next time?” When I hear that, I just shake my head in amazement. How can we expect kids to be more compassionate when a lot of the adults in their lives are struggling with it themselves?
As Catholics, we have a responsibility to inspire compassion and forgiveness in our children by setting an example of it for them at home, not only in how we behave, but how we react to the behavior of others who hurt us.
Below you will find scenarios and ideas to reinforce compassion at home and to deter bullying behaviors in your children. If you feel your child is bullied at school, gather evidence and data in writing, work in partnership with teachers and school administrators and suggest compassionate discipline to heal the bully and stop the bullying.
Compassionate Discipline Awakens and Develops Empathy
Traditional punishment, the act of removing something enjoyable or presenting something unpleasant to deter a negative behavior (such as bullying, excluding, teasing), doesn’t work. It only makes an angry child angrier and an insensitive child more disconnected. Try a better approach — compassionate discipline.
Compassionate discipline means instead of grounding a child (taking away the enjoyment of keeping company with others) or revoking their cell phone privileges (taking away the enjoyment of communication and technology), you provide creative opportunities that awaken their empathy and develop it like a muscle.
Create Opportunities for Compassion in Your Home
Use these suggested scenarios to help inspire creative opportunities that work for you and your family.
- If your child was disrespectful or bullied another student at school, have your child perform one unexpected act of kindness for a different person, each day, for a set period of time. Make sure your child writes down the names and phone numbers of each recipient so you can call to verify and to follow through.
- If you’ve caught your child saying something unkind or insensitive about his or her less fortunate classmates, take your child to a homeless shelter. As a family, serve lunch to the residents. Encourage your child to talk with them about their dreams and aspirations, and how they got derailed. Let your child see firsthand what it’s like to truly have no one or nothing. It will awaken the kindness and goodness that’s inside your child already, but simply needed a gentle nudge.
- If your child seems to be hanging with the popular crowd at the exclusion of others, use animal adoption as a way to motivate your child’s heart and to inspire unconditional love. I’m an animal lover and always encourage adoption from animal shelters. Explain to your child what happens to shelter animals that no one wants. Make a visit to the nearest animal shelter as a family, and when you arrive, inform the manager that your family would like to spend time with (or adopt) the pet that’s been there the longest. When the manager inevitably asks, “Don’t you prefer to walk up and down the rows of cages and pick one?” Say, “No!” because you don’t want to reinforce that example of conditional love. You don’t want to “pick a pet,” the same way your child may be picking who’s cool enough to sit with her at lunch or be invited to her sleepover. You want to set an example of unconditional love. And when that manager brings out that pet, even if it’s a 15-year old, bald, toothless, three-legged flatulent dog, give that sweet creature love and affection, let your child see how attention, affection and love changes everything.
- If your child seems ungrateful, show appreciation to the hidden workers around you. If you want your children to show more gratitude, the next time you’re at the mall with your child and see one of the custodians picking up a piece of garbage, walk over to her or him with your child and thank the custodian for taking such good care of your mall and working hard to keep it clean for everyone.
Punishment Doesn’t Stop Bullies: A Survivor’s Story
I realize if your child is being bullied, as a parent your natural instinct is to want the bullies punished, but bullies need to learn the joy of being kind, not only the consequences of being mean. They also need compassion and forgiveness.
I ought to know. I cried myself to sleep from fifth grade through high school, enduring rejection and abuse daily at the hands of my classmates. On that rare occasion when one of them would finally get punished, my parents and all the other adults called it justice. Only thing was, the bullying just got worse after that.
The night of my 20th high school reunion I learned that the kids who tormented me the most were dealing with horrible situations themselves. They were bringing all that fear and pain to school. Their cruel behavior wasn’t an act of hatred toward me or anyone else they were picking on; it was a cry for help.
I can’t help but wonder if the adults had taken another approach when I was in school, how things might have turned out differently. What if the girl who tormented me in gym class every day would have been treated with patience and supported emotionally, instead of just getting stuck in detention for a week? Her dad committed suicide that year, and no one in administration even knew. No wonder she was angry.
Then there’s the boy who cornered me after school one day. He threw rocks at me until I limped home. I learned later through a mutual acquaintance that nobody knew that his dad couldn’t hold a job and the family was always hungry. The acquaintance said that boy got a suspension once “and he lost six pounds, because at least at school there was food.”
Curiosity leads to compassion. BE curious. If there’s a bully in the mix, whether it’s a typical schoolyard bully, or an “elite tormentor,” my term for the unkind members of the cool crowd, more than likely that bully is a frightened kid acting out. The only way you can really stop the bullying is to address it at the source — help the bully, find out what’s wrong and intervene with support, love and compassionate discipline. Work with the school in partnership to find ways to save all the children involved. There’s no such thing as a bad kid, just good kids suffering from bad circumstances.
Jodee Blanco is the author of four books on bullying, including the seminal New York Times bestseller Please Stop Laughing At Me, required reading in Catholic schools across the country. She is also the author of a series of books on bullying for the National Catholic Educational Association, known as NCEA. She travels to schools, sharing her story to save lives, and has spoken to more than a half-million people worldwide. Her work inside schools is based on core Catholic values of compassion, tolerance and forgiveness. For more info, visit: www.jodeeblanco.com.