The other night, I had a surprising conversation with Ethan as I was tucking him into bed. After some hesitation, he looked at me and said: “Mom, I am a bully.”
I caught my first reaction, which was to deny that possibility. That can’t be true. Ethan has one of the biggest hearts I have ever witnessed. He is so perceptive and thoughtful. He must be making this up.
Putting my own reaction on hold, I asked, “In what way are you a bully?” And he went on to tell me how he was not very nice to some of his classmates, would find himself saying things that hurt their feelings, and had taken pencils and erasers from them. He had never hurt anyone physically, and had never gotten in trouble at school for it. He then cried over telling lies, and how he can’t seem to stop. And he finished this unexpected rant upset about being mean to his sister when he could see how it hurt her feelings.
And the truth is, I had no way of knowing if he was exaggerating any of this, being overly dramatic, nor could I determine how much of the time he was noticing himself being a bully. Regardless, we have always taught our kids that being kind is one of the things that we expect of them.
I realized a few things:
1 – I could not change his perception of this situation
2 – I couldn’t change anything he had said or done in the past
3 – I could only help him to make better choices from this point onwards
I saw my role as one of loving him through it, and helping him understand himself enough so that he could make the changes required. We talked about ways of making it right to his classmates, giving apologies, and returning any items to their rightful owners.
And then I reminded him of a conversation we had had years ago. At the time, he was almost four, and was very confused as to why anyone would ever hurt anyone in any way, especially on purpose. We explained to him that in our opinion, anyone who bullied another person was really doing it because of being unhappy themselves. I remember him looking to be deep in 4-year-old thought, after which he looked at me to say: “Mom, do you mean that bullies have forgotten that they have love in their hearts?” And to my way of understanding, that is exactly what is at the root of the problem.
Flashing forward 5 years to our present-day conversation, I reminded him of that concept. And I asked him, “Ethan, how do you feel about yourself right now?” To which he tearfully replied: “I don’t like myself very much right now.”
After a teary hug, I looked him in the eyes and asked him if he was ready to change. “I don’t know how, Mom. I don’t mean to be mean, but sometimes I just say things. And I don’t mean to lie, but I feel like I’ve been doing it for so long that I don’t know how to stop.
“Ok,” I said. “But do you think that you could be kind for just one day?” “Of course,” he replied. “Do you think that for just one day, you could pause every time you are about to say something to ask yourself: Is this kind?” “”Sure!” he said.
So this is what I suggested he do:
Upon waking every morning, he says to himself: Today I will be kind. Today I will be honest. And when he goes to bed at night, he asks himself: Was I kind today? Was I honest today?
He answered this suggestion with a true Ethan-smile, and told me that he could do that, easily. See, I knew that if I tried to get him to agree to stop these behaviours entirely (that he was admitting to, but not taking full responsibility for) he would say he couldn’t do it. But for one day? I mean, really, is there anything that you couldn’t do for just one day?
Yesterday was his “first day” of this experiment. And last night, he was happy to report that he did indeed spend the day being kind and honest. Today he is reporting the same (along with his admission to having exaggerated somewhat) I am relieved to see his usual, happy face, and to watch him being a kind and thoughtful brother (although I know that their sibling moments will still vary from touching to nerve-wracking)
And I am left thinking that perhaps we could all re-think some of our own challenges with this same mentality. I think I could do anything for one day. So on my part, I’m giving some thought to some things I find hard to do, and I’m going to start changing them… one day at a time.