Are we Bullying Our Children?

What if our efforts to stop bullying are misguided? What if the real solution comes long before our children enter school or set foot on a playground? What if bullying comes from us?

BullyingMany will be up in arms at this suggestion. They will quickly dismiss it as asinine. They will cite all sorts of studies that tell us all sorts of ways to prevent bullying, and rehabilitate bullies. Some may tout the vast amount of resources which have been put into anti-bullying programs.

Others will consider this message. They will think about it, and wonder what the implications are if there is truth in these thoughts.

This is not meant to make parents feel bad or excuse the children who are cruel to others. This message is not pretending that bullying is not an epidemic. The intention of sharing these thoughts is not to spark controversy or pit one mother against another.

This unpopular concept is being shared in the interest of children, and it needs to be considered.

We have come to accept that children are second class citizens; that their needs come second to parental convenience, material items, and parents’ desires. This is not because we are bad parents or because we do not love our children. We parents want what is best for our kids, and we want to give them the best start to life. We have created an accepted myth- that children need to be controlled and dictated into submission.

What if all of the choices we have been told are best for our child, are actually creating angry, and detached people who cannot learn to trust?


1 [bool-ee] 1. a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.

6. to act the bully toward; intimidate; domineer.

Here are some ways that we may bully our children without even realizing it:

  • We leave our children to cry, even though they wail in desperation, begging us to comfort them.
  • We physically overpower our children to force them into solitude (more acceptably termed time-out)
  • We insist that children learn things in the order and manner which we choose
  • We perpetuate the myth that children must hurt, or be punished, to learn
  • We choose what, when and where our children eat, sleep, wear, and play with- even if we pretend we are giving them choices
  • We tell our children that they must hug Aunt Judy, say thank you to the store clerk, and share the toys which are special to them
  • We dismiss their hatred of school as “normal” and force them out of bed and out the door five mornings each week
  • We manipulate and trick our children by saying things like “do you want broccoli or carrots?” when we know what they really want is potatoes or cereal. We pretend that we are giving them a say, when really we are manipulating them into doing what we want.

We justify these things by saying “it is what’s best for our child; they must eat their vegetables and look presentable at Church”. We preach that we are teaching “self control” and showing our kids “how to function in the real world”

What if it’s not justified though? What if it does not accomplish what we think it does?

We may be bullying our children from birth without even realizing it. Maybe this is the cause of the bullying epidemic in our schools and on our playgrounds. This difficult message is worthy of consideration, reflection, and exploration.

If we are indeed bullying in our homes, how can we expect anything but bullying from our children?

Click here for 5 Ways I Have Stopped Bullying My Kids.





84 Replies to “Are we Bullying Our Children?”

  1. I agree with everything in this post. As a child, my parents and family bullied me. As an adult, I see myself leaning towards bullying tendencies- which I am trying to work on for my lil’s sake. Attachment parenting has helped and staying informed and knowledgeable has helped me stay accountable.

    • Attachment parenting has helped me as well. It drives my husband nuts, but its best for my children

    • Hi Raven,

      Check out the quick start guides in the menu above, and the “Parenting Resources” section in the sidebar. Follow each author in each piece and keep reading what they write.

  2. Dude, I’ve thought this for so long…totally agree. Describing our perception of children as “second-class citizens” is such an appropriate way to label how we, as a society, treat them. I actually FELT like a second-class citizen the majority of my childhood. I got married far too young because I just wanted to be an adult and feel respected like one. That marriage didn’t last when I finally figured out who I was and not who my parents wanted me to be at the ripe old age of 27 :/ I vow to not push my daughter into who I want her to be (or what I want her to do) but to allow her to be who she already is.

    Very well-written. Thank you for sharing. Totally agree. And yet another reason I want to raise my daughter in a jungle 🙂

    • I can completely relate sometimes I think I made some decisions in an attempt to feel adult and get treated like one. I’m 22 and still feel like everybody treats me like a “child” it sucks to feel so little and powerless like all my decisions are constantly being critized and not good enough for my parents. As children that is all we want to make our parents proud and show them how great we are. But then it is never enough. The attention always goes to the bad things and the “you should have done this like I told u” I don’t consider myself a rebel child but my mom tells everybody I’ve always want to just do the opposite of what she says. I’m struggling to find myself and what career path I want to take my chills and parenthood serves as inspiration. But I still feel restrained and confused sometimes

  3. Sylvia,

    The point of pieces like this one is to help us consider our relationship with our child in a different way. Personally, I am always looking for ways of breaking down the things that distance me from my children and create an artificial life for them.

    Once we start thinking differently, we seek different information, solutions, and people. The Internet is a great resource for this.

    OMB has some good places to start. Check out our “Quick Start Guides” in the menu above, and “Parenting Resources” in the sidebar.

    From this point, it is up to each individual parent to seek useful information, apply it, and think differently.

    • Honestly there is a balance. Children do need choices….and a perfect example is “yes you need to try the the veggies but you get to choose which veggie! And use positive reinforcement and be uplifting- “did you know that it takes our tongue 10 times to like something? Lets do an experiment and try them together tand make a graph of how many times we try it!” but if left to too many choices their lives become anxiety ridden and chaotic. Children crave structure and routine. As an eay childhood educator I’ve seen both extremes and neither is healthy. . Anyway, I’ve seen children become sort of peers to their parents by having too many choices and assume the adult role -they become manipulative, aggressive, controlling, emotionally exhausted and terrified by the amount of decisions they have to make- decisions that must be made by adults. some decisons simply cannot be handled by a toddler. And the research in education SHOWS children crave the structure. The other piece is that kids need to learn that life isn’t always going to go their way. It’s ok to feel upset but we must help our children accept that we cannot control everything!

      • Well said! I sometimes feel muddy boots posts are the polar opposite of strict, regimented parenting and there should be middle ground. After all, we are supposed to lead by example and our children do want guidance and do need told when they’re in the wrong. They are not our peers and I have watched so many children grow up into adults I wouldn’t want to associate with because they lacked any authority or structure. They aren’t old enough to make every decision by themselves! But on a whole I do like the concept of attachment parenting, just that I feel there are some things that benefit the attachment parenting ideal other than the child.

  4. so, raising our children to eat properly and having manners is bullying? While I agree with some of this article, those parts are ludicrous. If our kids only ate what they wanted instead of what I offered for dinner, then there would be articles about childhood obesity and how it’s all the parent’s fault. And I don’t think that teaching our children to be polite and expecting a standard from them is bullying. It’s called child raising. I’m raising my children to be respectful.

    • Heather,

      As I shared in this article, I know that many will call the ideas “ludicrous”. Your thoughts are certainly representative of most parents in the US.

      There is a group of parents though, who know factually that there is another way- one that affords children the respect that we are given simply because of our age, and that recognizes that it is ludicrous to think that children have to be belittled and broken down to learn manners.

      This is a different way of thinking and it is worth considering.

      • Agree! I have 3 children who are so polite people constantly tell me how polite they are. My oldest is in school and her teachers always remark at how well behaved she is. The same for my younger children in preschool or even out at stores or restaurants. They’ve never been punished, forced to eat something they don’t like, never been hit or put on time out. There are better ways. Talking to them, behaving kindly and politely towards them so they learn from example. The list goes on. They are also not picky eaters and eat everything from sushi to curry. It is possible to parent in a peaceful way and treat your children with respect and kindness. The best part is that they will do what was done to them-so kindness begets kindness!

      • I did not say that they had to be belittled or broken down to learn manners. I believe the opposite of that, but stating that it’s bullying to expect it is not accurate. This is definitely a one-sided piece and there is nothing in the article itself to suggest that there are alternatives, just a general sense of condemnation if one believes those things.

        Also, it’s not just our age that garners respect, it’s more the experience that we have gleaned over the years vs. our age. While I give respect to neurosurgeons, I would give more respect to the chief of neurosurgery in a hospital because of their experience. Respect should be given not earned, but there are still levels of respect.

        • I agree – I wanted my son to say thank you as it IS respectful. But, I never “made” him say it. I was just his model. Every night my husband cooked, I thanked him at the dinner table for the nice dinner, thanked him for cleaning up, thanked my son for things….while my son didn’t say thank you until about age 3 1/4, now he says it every time I get him a drink, or a spoon or pour his cereal etc. I think that’s more the point of gentle parenting. I am guilty of other things but all I know is I try my best every day and I can’t ask more than that…husband does need more convincing as he takes it as a big blow to his ego if I suggest other ways to handle situations with the kids.

  5. We can all be bullies. There are so many layers of manipulation that is cultural and systematic in the way children are treated. Awareness of my own experience helps me look more closely at my behavior with my children. I still catch myself creating situations in those moments when I haven’t taken care of myself and need to take power from the situation. Now, thankfully, our home culture is reflective enough that a dialogue can ensue when anyone’s behavior is overbearing and demanding. Alice Miller’s book, Drama of the Gifted Child, was very helpful in working through cultural awareness on this subject. It is a difficult process, but I want my children to remain intact, whole, and strong at the core. I want them to know themselves and understand their rights to themselves as human beings. They naturally, then, are more justice oriented, compassionate people. They have strong observational skills and keen insights into human behavior. Their personal boundaries are strong because they have not been made to people please for acceptance and have been given choice in their lives. I, most likely, will spend the rest of my days on this earth regaining parts of myself that, hopefully, will stay integrated from the start with them. One thing is for sure, it takes a lot of courage and we are all worth it.

  6. Here’s the deal. Unfortunately, not every parent is going to adopt this standpoint or be equipped enough to do so. I’m not a therapist who can unconditionally love someone. In any event therapists can only do so for 50 mins at a time once a week because they are human. What I can do though is teach my children how to effectively deal with bullying and feel in control of themselves and their situation. The world is not going to change over night and there will always be bully’s. All I can do is love my children and equip them with the tools to deal with it when it comes.

    • It is not my understanding that a therapist should love his or her patient or client at all. In fact, I believe that is unethical. Maybe a therapist can speak to this.

      Incidentally, I believe the above article could also be titled “how to bully-proof your kid”.

      • I think that therapists model unconditional love in the form of ‘unconditional positive regard’. When I read your articles, that seems to me what you are doing for your children.

        One of Rogers (1957;1959) conditions for necessary and sufficient therapeutic change is:
        “Therapist’s Empathetic understanding: the therapist experiences an empathetic understanding of the client’s internal frame of reference. Accurate empathy on the part of the therapist helps the client believe the therapist’s unconditional love for them.”
        I’m assuming that you mean “how to prevent your kid from becoming a bully”. I guess I can see how you can bully proof your kid by showing them what it means to be treated in a good way and not stand for any other treatment. That they deserve to be loved which is a good thing. It all boils down to the same thing. You are in your own way equipping your children with skills to make them less susceptible to bullying. Although, I am curious how you prevent them from being ‘spoiled’ and wanting to have their way all the time. I say it not to offend but I am curious.

      • It is termed unconditional positive regard in therapy. We do not love our clients necessarily, but we do practice what looks a bit like unconditional love. No matter how negative your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors have been or are, we still value you, we still believe in you, and we will not tear you down or look down on you. However, it is not unethical to love a client. It is unethical to engage in romantic behaviors with them. It is never unethical to love anyone. In fact, if we could all just love a little more, maybe there wouldn’t be so much injustice in this world.

        • Thanks so much Ashley for clearing it up. I would never say that I love my therapist but I tell others that I care about him/her very much. It’s a weird feeling sometimes. It’s not a feeling of fondness but rather, “Wow! I can’t believe that this person sits with me for 50 minutes every week and can still tolerate me.”

  7. It is certainly one of the causes of bullying. I’m learning to be be a gentle parent so I loose it once or twice and yell and force my child into “behaving”.( He is very adventurous and curious and likes to get in dangerous situations.) so many times he yells back “no mommy calm down!” Just the way I yell at him finger pointing and attitude. Lol I find it cute and try to learn from my errors. I also gotta remember to get to his eye level I don’t do this enough. So like every child he is learning from my actions and my attitudes, and I can imagine a child bullying another with the same actions or in an attemp to gain some control of his own life. On top of that we are not giving our children a safe zone those who get bully often feel hopeless because at home they will be ridiculized for getting bully. Or just be told don’t get bully just stay away from that child and so on. Or we tell them to fight back. And were is the parent who is supposed to protect the child? Why are we telling them oh don’t be such a sissy. Where is that safe zone for the child to express his hurt and emotions where is the parent reaching out to the bully to find out why is he so angry and why does he think he can treat others in such ways. Zero tolerance in school won’t do it and making them shake hands and apologize either (I saw this on a bully documentary). It’s not about teaching them to be stronger or to stop bullying its much deeper than that.

  8. Me and my husband were just talking about this! I’m so gladyou have the courage to share this. Both my husband and I had very controlling manipulative parents, and to this day he has issues and distrust with his. Luckily I have since been able to reconnect with my mother and through showing her how I raise my son has helped a lot and opened up conversations. I feel so bad. When I see kids in atores or in restaurants that are being yelled at because they wanted to say something and their parents don’t want to listen. Or kids who are left at day-care. So you can do what you want/”need” to do without them unconvincing you. I love every moment with my son, even if I don’t like it… which is usually when I need to stop what I’m doing and spend some time with him, this is why it took my almost an hour to write this lol. But again thank you so muchfor putting this thought out into the world and causing people to think.

  9. I follow and am a fan of OMB and I love a lot of what is posted there and it has brought me to reconsider my parenting and see my beautiful children as individuals as equally deserving of respect as we are. And whilst I put into practice a lot of what I read about there and have believed myself for a long time, I do feel that we also , as parents, creators of these little beings that we have a duty and responsibility to prepare them for the “world”. They are born and need parental guidance, and whilst letting them grow and develop freely and without stereotypes and conditioned mannerisms being imposed upon them is fantastic, dont we have a duty to teach them about things like manners and how to “socially” act around others, peers, society? While a lot of what Im saying here may well come from years of my own conditioning , I do feel that teaching them to eat healthy is a good thing. Ive always offered fresh veg with every meal and if they wish to eat it , great, if not, then thats ok too. But I cant see how a child can know themself enough at say age 2, to go to a cupboard and take some food out and know that this is what they need. I do teach my children about manners. I understand that manners is just another concept imposed upon us about how we “should” act socially. But if they are to get ahead in life surely they should be taught about the world and how it functions, whether we like it or not? I do find it a little tough to sit back and let my children run riot through the house and jump on eachother, hurting eachother at times and not discipline in some way, albeit gently. Im trying to change my thinking, but I do struggle with these things.

    • Hi Karen,

      I ask this with no “snarkiness”, and in a spirit of genuine conversation, okay? 😉

      Who said anything about letting kids run riot and not offering healthy meal options?

      Do you see what I am getting at?

      • You suggested in the above article that we may bully our children by the fact that ■We choose what, when and where our children eat
        A perfect example would be this evening , I found my son eating butter from the packet with his fingers just before dinner. If id left him to it, he have eaten enough to make him feel more than a little unwell. I dont feel that providing healthy balanced meals at a particular time during the day can be deemed as a form of bullying?

        And I said that I struggled with letting them run through the house jumping on eachother and what not without feeling the need to tell them to stop. I just wonder where do you draw the line and how?

        Please remember that I am a fan of OMB and Im genuinely interested in your views on this. Not tryng to be argumentative!

        • It could be that if you left it to him, he *would* have eaten enough to feel icky. But then he’d have probably decided that “gee, that’s awful, I never want to do THAT again.” Taking it away often just reinforces the idea that there’s this awesome thing that mom is keeping away from me…

          • Was just thinking today that my child is using far to much technology an to much brumbys food. Not alot I can do about it as it’s her choice. All I can do is look at my own life style choices, when we do the best to reflect our best self, our kids will make an effort to do the same

        • Its funny you say that about the butter, I did exactly that when I was small! The result? I felt sick then would NOT touch butter again for about 20 years:) haha Butter isn’t so bad anyway, it is high energy so he’ll just need less food for a meal or two 😉 Honestly I wouldn’t sweat it!

  10. I love this!! Vegetable eating is a huge issue at our house. I’ve struggled with getting my daughter to find the value in eating healthy, but it is hard when she is also at her dad’s where he uses a lot of force to get her to do things. I admit I use a lot of manipulation in this area of her life but now I want to stop. We are a vegan family and under scrutiny everyday from my daughter’s father when it comes to her nutrition. I’ve been letting my worry of his anger at me dictate how I treat my little girl.
    It is a very hard thing to own up to, but yes, I haven’t been kind to her.
    Thank you for holding up the mirror, even if we don’t all want to see ourselves inside.

  11. Jennifer, you need to include a recommendation for ways to parent differently. You say to another writer who asks: “Check out the quick start guides in the menu above, and the “Parenting Resources” section in the sidebar. Follow each author in each piece and keep reading what they write.”

    I checked out the quick start guides and there are no helpful resources that speak directly to your article. To tell your readers to follow each author in each piece and keep reading what they write is not exactly a helpful recommendation –especially if the writers are writing specifically about breastfeeding or other parenting topics that don’t specifically relate to bullying.

    YOu pose thought provoking ideas (I’m in agreement) but I think you could serve your readers more if you offered suggestions and recommendations. Maybe a part two?


    • But don’t you see Stash?! Those ARE the choices! Each parenting interaction; feeding, cry it out, circumcision, etc. are all choices to bully or connect with our children.

      There are additional guides and resources which speak specifically to respecting our children.

      There is a part 2 coming, but it won’t be what you expect.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  12. So true! An Argentine family therapist, Laura Gutman, explains that both kids who are bullied and kids who bully others have learnt this form of interaction in their homes, from their own parents. And they are both DESPERATE to be loved and listened to and comforted. In fact, that’s how you end bullying.
    And the concept of “second class citizen” describes it so well! In a time when we are supposedly so over discrimination based on sex, race, religion, most people think it is ok to treat kids as if their were worth less than an adult. Sometimes I see people with their kids and think of a slave master. It’s really sad. sometimes kids end up at the end of the society spectrum, only coming before pets, the lowest class citizen.

    • Thank you for saying this, Lizzi. I consider myself a PARENT, not a bully. My children eat what I give them, go to bed when I tell them, and (for the most part) behave the way I expect them to (respectfully and with good manners). Acting like a parent isn’t controlling, it’s a way to teach our children right from wrong, good from bad, and that the world doesn’t revolve around them. When my children fly from my next, they’ll be well prepared to make their way in life, not expect people to coddle to them.

    • you seem to be someone that is ridiculous if this is the most ridiculous thing you have ever heard

  13. What an absolute load of psycho babble, never read anything so ridiculous. So asking our children to choose between peas or carrots turns them into a playground bully? Teaching them good manners builds up a rage in them that can only be expressed by becoming a bully? Sending our children to school is setting them up to become bullying thugs? Seriously? You have some kind of warped mind.

  14. I see how for a two parent household where one or both parents work from or stay at home much of this makes sense. In reality not all of us are fortunate to have it so simple. And not all children are cooperative when we really need them to be. Like single parent homes where that parent has to work and make meals and play the role of both parents to a child who is not always cooperative even with talking to them on their level. I personally am mom and dad and the sole provider for my child who many days does not want to be woken up dressed and dragged off to day care but if I do not work we do not eat etc. My child often throws tantrums in the mornings when we are on a time limit. I can not simply call work and say sorry my child doesn’t feeling like going to daycare today so I won’t be in. So I need to restrain him for a moment and sometimes force him to get dressed etc. I wouldn’t exactly call this bullying. Although I am open to suggestions if anybody thinks they have a better way to handle such circumstances.

    • It’s so tough! One small trick I use frequently with regards to dressing…I tell my children I hate to go out, they don’t want to leave or to get dressed. I walk towards the car and they quickly run after me! My 2yo has usually stripped himself off but inevitably refuses to get dressed…So he goes to wherever it is we’re going in just his diaper. He gets cold before we actually drive away so we dress him in the car. It may sound silly but it Really helps as he wants to get dressed and doesn’t fight! And who cares where we do it, as long as it gets done:) I know, like his brother, he will soon learn that wearing clothes when going out is actually a good thing and he will do it happily when he knows we are leaving soon:)

  15. It seems to me that some are interpreting this to mean kids should be allowed to do whatever they want whenever they want. I don’t think that was the point at all – correct me if I’m wrong. The point I got, however, was that we don’t need to control every detail of our children’s lives. We don’t need to talk to them in a way we’d never talk to an adult. We need to respect their choices, and teach them in loving, kind and respectful ways to interact with the world around them. Will they learn manners? Sure they will. Will they make mistakes and not have any manners? Sure they will. And we can talk to them with respect through both situations.

  16. Exercising parental authority is not “bullying” except by the most ridiculous stretch of the imagination. I believe in gentle parenting, but when we create limits and sometimes even physically restrain a child against their will, we aren’t bullying. A bully does what they do because they want to dominate another and enjoy the fear of the victim. A bully does not sit up at night worrying about how their victim will turn out. A bully does not hurt inside when their victim is crying.

    Too often, what gets left out from these platitudes by some parents is the reality of temperament. How often have I heard parents congratulate themselves on the success of raising a child who, in turns out, was temperamentally easy-going; when they then have a “spirited” child, their easy new-age truisms and self-satisfaction vanishes. Don’t be one of those parents.

  17. I do not believe parents are responsible for the actions of anyone over 13- before that age, they are to train and guide not out of control but love. When we focus on the heart, not the externals, we focus on the important. Teens make their own choices-some follow their peers and bully; many do not. With this thinking parents teach toddlers to lie and have tantrums. That’s just not so-its much more complex.

  18. There are some valid points to Attachment Parenting. But the premise of this article is silly. By this logic, nearly all children would be bullies. A majority of all children actually, since most parents coerce and bully their kids to get up each morning and go to school… when in reality, they would rather stay home and sit in front of their xbox.

    I agree that violent behavior by parents has a negative impact on children. However, I fail to see the downside of ‘manipulating’ or ‘coercing’ my kids into being polite to people, especially the poor under-paid and under-appreciated people who work in retail. Yes, I remind my kids to say please and thank you to people.

    I, until recently, have been a singe father of two kids. My ex was all about attachment parenting, unschooling and everything that went along with that. Her efforts, while well meaning, lead to behavioral and organizational issues in my children and caused problems later on. Yet after nearly two years of ‘my’ style of parenting, they have made a massive turn around. Because they have expectations, standards of behavior. There are things that they have to do, there are things that they cannot do… even if they really really want to.

    What your article, and other articles Ive read, suggest that what I am doing is detrimental to my children. And that what you are suggesting will lead to more well adjusted children and adults.

    You are just as narrow minded as anyone else who claims that they have a superior way of raising children, and judging by the website… have plenty of time on your hands to think about such things.

    What you fail to take into account is that everyone is different. All children develop and grow differently. There are so many circumstances that affect children, not just how their parents treat them. Whereas allowing children to make up their own minds and let them do what they felt like, when they felt like, never hear a raised voice or face punishment or have to make a decision that someone else has put forth may work in your world with your kids… with mine, it lead to chaos. I feel that I am not alone in this either.

    I tell my kids what to do, when to do it, how long they have to get it done, I make them eat dinner, clean themselves, go to school, put their laundry away, clean up after themselves. I usually raise my voice after I ask them to do something 4 or 5 times… and yet they are happy kids, dont have problems at school or in other social situations (karate, swimming, daycare, etc)

    Far flung concepts and scare tactics will not bully or coerce me into changing how I take care of my kids. I hope it works out well for you.

    • Exactly! This article is ridiculous! From my experience bullies are usually kids who have no structure at home and/or parents who don’t care to discipline. Crockery!

  19. Totally agree! Setting an example for your children is the best way to teach them manners etc, parents who do not have the discipline, patience etc to be a constant example to their children will resort to physical punishment, time-outs and other more convenient methods. Being a role model with your children, taking time to explain, encourage and teach them is an effort that many parents find to difficult, and hence justify the easier path of bullying their children.

  20. Taking the logic of “broccoli or carrots” one step further, you could argue that the very act of selecting food at the grocery store for the family, instead of bringing the kids along and letting them pull what they like from the shelves, is an act of bullying. At some point, the parent is in the better place to make the choice. What if I don’t ask the question about carrots or broccoli. What if I just cook carrots and broccoli but no potatoes (and forget about cereal) and put it on the table along with some whole grain rice. Is that bullying? Does the cook not get to decide what’s for dinner?

    • What about a question such as “What’s your favourite foods”? And out of those what would you like to eat? Then go shopping or plant some seeds. Show them that candy bars are made in a factory by taking them to the candy bar factory, an that watermelons grow on the ground an apples from a tree by visiting a farm.. Then they can make more informed choices, not just whats forced upon them from our narrow minded parenting that …admit it… our parents conditioned us with… Don’t be so egotystical an arrogant to inflict it on our children… our future.. it’s about breaking cycles for ever

      • That is absolutely ridiculous. Yeah, I said it. You are going to ask a 6yr old what his favorite foods are and then take him to see how they are produced so that he can make an informed decision on what is best to eat? Parents like you make me fear for the future of this world.

        A candy bar factory? Great idea, unfortunately most of us in the real world have jobs and other responsibilities that preclude us from taking whimsical little trips to candy bar factories… as if taking a small child to a factory is going to make him see that automated food processing is bad for him? Unless you live near the Hershey factory, I dont think they just let you take your kid through the place so you can show them how bad their product is for them. I feel like that if I took my kids to a candy bar factory they would love it because there is so much going on, all the machines and workers would probably fascinate them. Just as they are equally fascinated about the growing of food.

        YOU are bullying your child already because I feel that by taking him to that factory you will expect him to see it as a negative, like you do. Id bet that he would love it and choose candy bars because they taste good and come from a really cool place that he got to go see with all of the people and machines… dont forget the free samples. By showing them how things are made, you are trying to steer him down your path, not allowing him free choice. He knows what a candy bar is, he knows what vegetables are. That should be enough by the way you guys think. You showing him how a candybar is made vs how the potatoes come out of the dirt is an attempt to teach him something. Therefore influencing his choices, basically bullying him into rejecting candy bars.

        Im sure you are all well intended, but the logic here is flawed.

        • Hi Brian,

          Thanks for the comment. One quick note before I respond because I believe it matters, in your opinion the logic here is flawed, that does not mean that it actually is.

          Within your comment lies the crux of the issue. Can our children be trusted to make decisions on their own, or are they glutenous pigs who are going to make sickening choices for their whole lives if we do not value broccoli more than Hershey’s chocolate? There are lots of parents of grown children whose experiences have proven that the answer to this is “no”.

          This will sound flippant, and I suppose it is; I can understand why “parents like us” make you “fearful for the future of this world”. Having “parents like us” challenge conformity is scary. If enough of us do it, the world will look different, and change can be very, very scary- particularly if you are not used to practicing it. Fear not though Brian; intentional living is a good thing. Trying to improve the way we relate to our children is positive.

          The world is going to change no matter what- it has to. Personally, I would rather see the world change by having more respectful, thoughtful, compassionate and empathetic people in it. This is precisely what this parenting style offers. Getting there is super messy for a lot of us. Does that mean we should not try, or muddle our way through the mess? Of course not! That muddy sludge is valuable- for us and our children.

          • Fir Jennifer, Id like to say that I appreciate the place this article was written from. I agree that there is often a lot of bullying involved in parenting. This is an ongoing battle for my husband and myself. The more our mindset shifts, the more we see progress in our home! That being said, I do have some concerns, particularly with this response. One more disclaimer, I don’t believe you think children should “run rampant” or that we can’t cook healthy meals.

            As a parent, I believe it is very much my responsibility to care for my childrens needs. I do my very very best to afford as many organic foods, grass fed meats and properly prepared grains (when we consume them). My kids will usually choose real food over junky foods (excluding sweets) simply because that is what they like! Here is where my concern lies in your statement. I do not let my kids eat junk food candy bars. I do not believe that is manipulative or bullying. For one, companies like Hershey’s and Nestle are beyond corrupt and by purchasing their candies we are only SUPPORTING bullying (child slave labor, starving babies, unsafe working conditions…). If I gave my child the option of buying a hershey bar or an apple, even though he loves apples a LOT, he would choose the chocolate 90% of the time. Because it is yummy and he is 2 and likes yummy things and does”t understand the concept of child slave labor or immune systems. I feel it is MY job to provide acceptable choices for him to choose from. That means that I do ask him which vegetable he would like with dinner tonight (carrots or broccoli). I don’t force them down his throat, but do respectfully insist that we all (parents too) take one bite of veggies and one bite of meat. If he doesn’t like it then thats great! If he looks very stressed we don’t push it. But it is a general expectation because his sweet 2 year old self doesn’t understand long term consequences (like only wanting potatoes and cereal or candy). Just for those who may say something about it, my child DOES enjoy sweets on occasion, I just choose for our family to keep it in appropriate balance and do my best to provide healthy and friendly options for them to choose from. Such as organic fair trade chocolate instead of Nestle. This very same thing could be said about tv or over stimulating battery toys (both things we don’t love and choose to limit in this house).

            Another example might be in getting dressed. Personally, I think it really shouldn’t matter what your child wears, If he wants to wear a superman suit for a week then thats fine by me, lol! But overall, my son finds too many choices overwhelming. So I usually grab 2-3 shirt options and he happily picks one. Sometimes, he doesn’t like any and wants a particular shirt and that is ok. But mostly, he doesn’t like opening a full drawer of shirts. That usually ens with clothes everywhere and him feeling frustrated and not dressed. So I do not feel it manipulative to (generally) grab 2-3 shirts to pick from.

            I don’t know if you disagree with what I’ve written (I’d genuinely love to hear back from you) but I think that balance is really important. I want my children to know that I respect and love them. That I will make up for what they can’t do. Can’t stop yourself from hitting because youre tired/hungry/angry? Thats ok, I understand and I will help you until you can do it yourself. You are so upset and don’t want to get into your carseat? I understand, I love you but its time to go. I will help you. Freedom only feels free within safe boundaries, for parents and for kids.

            While I believe I understand your point, I get concerned with articles written so broadly. Personally, I feel this will push more away from respectful parenting then it will bring. Not because your points aren’t valid, but because they appear to be calling PARENTING bullying. After all, what is a parent supposed to do when their child doesnn’t want to go to school and have already done their best to deal with emotions and routines? Call in to work every day? I already know that I will not be sharing this on my facebook page because I think it will end up doing more harm then good. It really does sound like you don’t think parents should have any say at all (though I don’t think that was your intention).

      • I think what many miss Rene, is that you are suggesting this options so that your children can become informed- not to steer them. The world that opens when we abandon what has always been done is overwhelming. It is also beautiful, bigger and filled with more possibility than we could ever know.

        Thanks so much for sharing your useful and insightful thoughts.

  21. Most ridiculous and dangerous thing I’ve ever heard. I think children are not adults and do need someone to guide them in the first years of their life. This doen’t mean parents don’t need to listen to them but what I think what you wrote is really sad.

    • dangerous? Since when is treating some one with the respect and dignity that you would expect to be treated with dangerous? There is NOTHING in what she wrote that said we should not be there guiding out children and helping them learn safe and practical things. What I think is sad is the parent at my kids’ school whose kid is always in trouble and their “solution” is to sentence a poor defenseless 6 year old to his room for hours on end on a daily basis for not behaving – that is sad and dangerous. I think you need to re-read and see what she is saying because you obviously missed the point.

  22. Wow, for me this piece had a lot of power – I grew up in a household with ‘traditional’ discipline, and I’m still trying to work out how to parent differently. To me, what Jennifer said makes a lot of sense, but the specific points she used to illustrate bullying jarred – until I thought about t a bit more. Often, the choices I offer are not offered in a reasonable way – for example, the food one. Sometimes, I start to make dinner, and the eldest will ask what we’re having, and thin not like the proposed meal. Or I tell him the main, but will offer him a choice of vegetables. HE may then decide he doesn’t like it, or suggest a slight change – it’s not what I have started, or planned, or I don’t have the ingredients, and the meal becomes an issue. Wouldn’t it be better to talk with the kids beforehand, and say ‘tonight I had planned to cook X, because… or involve them in the week’s plans, and then gently remind them in the morning so that they can anticipate their delicious (!) dinner. I often forget that kids don’t always like surprises, or having decisions thrust upon them, or not having a say. If we work with their way of thinking (rather than just give them lousy choices or fait accomplis), won’t we get a better outcome?

  23. I didn’t read this article as a ‘parenting guide’ but rather as an invitation to consider bullying from another point of view. An invitation that may lead to a paradigm shift in how we consider bullying and its underlying causes.
    Of course asking your child to choose between carrots or broccoli is not going to turn them into a bully! Even the thought of that is absurd to me.. But the accumulation of experiences like that is another matter altogether. Children live what they learn.

    We have raised our sons to adults and they are good people, polite, caring and considerate of others’ feelings and different points of view. I have not been a perfect parent and did some things I wish I hadn’t but overall we tried to respect our kids and allow them to have an opinion about the things in their lives.

    The question for me is this: do you believe kids have the same right to likes/dislikes as you do, and do you believe that allowing them choice, even when it is not pleasant for you as a parent, is a good thing as long as the child is not in danger? Or do you believe that an adult’s wishes, demands and point of view ALWAYS take precedent over a child’s?

    I am very lucky to be friends with a couple who are raising their child in a ‘non-violent communication’ way where there is no ‘win or lose’ and everyone gets to express their thoughts and feelings. It takes more time and lots of talking, and most importantly, listening but at 9 years of age, this little girl often is the negotiator and peacemaker on her school ground. She also has the ability to listen to my point of view about an issue, offer her own and then work together with me to find a solution that keeps us connected rather than separated. I find this incredibly moving and amazing and hopeful for our future generations…

  24. Pingback: Bullying, Parenting, and Communication | Evolutionary Parenting | Breastfeeding and Sleeping Arrangements - Science and History in Parenting

  25. I’m going to type a few examples that maybe will get the point. I remember my Dad being “this” kind of bully – I was yelled at at the dinner table if he heard my teeth scrape against the fork, or if I leaned over my food or if elbows were on the table. Not saying that those things are something he should’ve LET me do (doesn’t matter) but that he SHOULD have taught me it in a gentle way. Not a scolding one, not a yelling one, not one where I felt “less than” because I was always doing it “wrong”. He also spanked me HARD one time (many times but one time I remember in particular) because I couldn’t decide if I wanted to stay home with my mom or go to the store with my Dad….I remember feeling so torn emotionally and being so young I was lost as to what to do so I cried and cried so he spanked me for crying and not deciding and as I watched him drive away, I remember being devastated that he was leaving and upset that I wasn’t with him. This was about HIM not being able to control his anger as an adult and had nothing to do with my feelings….he should’ve been understanding of me which I think is the point here.

    Today at the grocery store, my son wanted to play with the blood pressure machine, so I let him. He pushed the buttons, watched the cuff tighten then loosen, then tighten again. Why would I say no to this? I did however tell him to be careful with things as we didn’t want to machine to stop working.
    He also wanted to see the live lobsters so we did – and he also picked up an apple that he wanted to buy….my immediate thought was that we had plenty of apples at home, and what a waste of money it would be blah blah blah and my second thought was “why the hell not?!?!?” Let him have it – we say “no” (I try not to but let’s be real here) to SO SO SO many things to our kids, why not say yes as often as you can. So I said, “YES”, you may pick that apple and mommy will buy it for you and you may have it for snack when we get home. He was one PROUD little boy and showed my husband and my in-laws the apple that he bought and then he proudly ate it for snack. It’s moments like this that give our kids the feeling of self worth, and that they are important. They are equally as important as us so we need to give in to them sometimes as they give in to us too…and let’s please try to put ourselves in their shoes…
    hugs to all you awesome moms out there!

  26. To say nothing of the fact that it is so acceptable to tear others down and demean people for no other reason than you don’t like them. Look at all the vitriol being slung in the same-sex marriage debate, for example. People who say they want their kids to be tolerant and not bully other kids are attempting to bully a HUGE part of our population just because they don’t “agree” with how they are choosing to live their lives. People do not even realize that EVERY unkind word or action they take against another (gossiping, etc.) is seen by our kids and that is what they are learning! I have an ex-friend (I unfriended because I could not take it any more!) who was so surprised that her kid was bullying others at school, but she routinely talked crap about people, she was always calling people names, she could not function without being in some kind of drama or turmoil with others – in short, he learned how to be a bully from watching her.

  27. I have seen over and over that powerlessness at home potentially leads to trying to find a way, any way to feel powerful elsewhere.

    Our children need to be given choice, love , nurturing, understanding, loving attention, and they will grow from a foundation of an empowered state.

    We need now more than ever to reject the “old parenting scripts” deal with our stuff, look at how we are treating children.

    As you say in your by line Unlearning to parent, and that really resonates because we cannot continue to follow the ideology that separation and ignoring children’s emotions creates independence. That discipline creates a compliant and well behaved child.

    The consequences of this parenting reaches far into the child’s future. One of those is the inability to connect with ones truth, ones power, ones wellspring of self love. The internal compass that helps one navigate life

  28. Our primary mode of behaving as parents is to repeat how we were treated. This will be in spite of wanting to ‘do it differently’. Recognizing that, and being aware of our own feelings and feeling them consciously enables us to reassess situations and create other responses.
    When a child appears to become ‘difficult’ it is quite likely that the child is an age that the parent was when some thing traumatic occurred. This is 100%! Once the parent remembers the incident that happened to them and reconnects with how they felt at that early time miraculously things change! An empathy occurs.
    The child is then released from the repeating pattern. We carry our history and we are asleep to it. Our children look at us and the mirror neurons in their brains reflect ourselves back to us yet we identify the behaviour as the child’s alone. This is not so.

    Our children are designed to show us what we have hidden from ourselves. That is why it can be so difficult. We need to be gently with ourselves and then we will be gentle with our children and find harmonious ways to live.

  29. Pingback: 5 Posts about Respecting Children

  30. My little just doesn’t fall asleep without a fight… Not always, sometimes we catch that wave of sleepiness just right and she goes to sleep without a fuss at all. But man we are living lives with jobs and school and rides and appointments and her little nap needs just cannot dictate our lives. I feel like I have tried everything… Hold her in my arms, stay with her by her bed while she falls asleep etc., family bed (which was how we started until she began sleep fighting). I am truly at a loss… how can I be a bully if I do EVERYTHING to try to coddle her to sleep and she still cries bloody murder, fighting sleep? If I leave her alone in her bed… guess what, crying stops after about 2 mins. So what is the bullying factor here?????? Making her get much needed sleep???? Or should I just let her turn into the crazy kid that she turns into when she misses her naps?

  31. Pingback: Safety For School Blog Are We Bullying Our Children? – Our Muddy Boots | Safety For School Blog

  32. Well, this is interesting. I do think it’s sort of funny how there is so much hand wringing about the whole vegetable eating issue. It is a universal truth that kids push back from vegetable and at the same time equally true that they push back from everything because that’s where they are developmentally as they grapple with the lifelong process of becoming autonomous, self-reliant, competent and confident. I submit that if left alone with reasonable options (they can’t take themselves to the market for chips, cookies and diet coke) they will achieve a balance eventually. Moreover, one that they understand, can sustain and are comfortable with. My oldest lived on about 4 food items for the first 12 years….but then, around 20, she was the one who got me to eat sashimi for the first time.
    But really, the overarching premise of this blog, and specifically this post, are spot on in my opinion. As a preschool director, I have long been a proponent of the notion that kids are citizens of the world that moment they draw breath; that they are inherently competent and require encouragement and an opportunity to gain experience working at their own solutions and strategies as individuals and as members of a group … far more than they need to be told what to do, how to do it and what will happen if they do/don’t. Obviously, health and safety are areas where our responsibility as parents and teachers come in just as much as our responsibility to provide love, compassion, encouragement, provocations and the environment that supports discovery and acquired knowledge. Kids have very little control, so letting them have contextual problem solving experiences at this age is invaluable and the stakes are relatively low.

    Its a hard detour from our ingrained biases sometimes, but ‘might makes right’ as a teaching/parenting dogma precludes learning in a real-time context how to consider the needs of others as well as the desires and needs of self. None of us exist in a vacuum, not even toddlers and preschoolers and it’s easy to recognize that the well being of the group is necessary for the well being of the individual.
    As far as teaching kids to toughen up cuz things can’t always go their way? They figure that out pretty quickly, but when they have practiced the steps to achieving solutions, boundaries and compromises – they will have a stronger understanding of the need for, and value of, those rules and boundaries when they are older and are confronted with the cold cruel world.

  33. Pingback: 5 Ways I Have Stopped Bullying My Kids

  34. I dont believe, this world is missing Parents being Parents and taking responsibility of their children. Somehow from 1960 till now societyy has let the world change them…..I believe because it had become the “Social Norm”.

  35. I agree partly with the article, however I do have some questions. An example – if you need to go to the supermarket, but your 2 year old doesn’t want to go. Not just wanting to finish watching a tv show, because that is only a delay that can be negotiated. But not at all. And do you force them to wear a seatbelt? Because there are some safety things that are not negotiable.

    My kids are a bit older now, teenagers, and were given the option to homeschool, which they rejected as they love school. I do regularly have to insist they get out of bed to make sure they are at school on time. If they got to choose, they would stay in bed all day, which wouldn’t make them happy as they wouldn’t get what they wanted done for the day. Is it bullying for me to insist that they are up and ready on time? Especially since they expect me to drive them to school. They have a lot of choice in their lives, but still have to contributed to the running of the family.

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  37. sigh… so Love and Logic’s “choices within limits” isn’t as good as I thought? what’s a better way?

  38. This is something I have been thinking about when I hear about so-called anti-bullying campaigns. If one child says to another child, “Do what I say or I will make something unpleasant happen to you.” we call that bullying, but when a parent says it to a child, we call it discipline. How is any child supposed to make sense of that? While I think that it is our job to set limits to keep our kids safe and healthy, we have to start respecting our kids as fully human if they are to respect themselves and others.

  39. Up until 3 years ago I totally would have agreed with you, even as a single parent, sole provider. Now 3 years into having a child with special needs articles like this make me cringe and think that I’m a horrible parent. As with the butter example, my little one would have ate until he threw up, then start over. I love my children unconditionally and struggle to be a gentle parent while providing a safe envirnment for both children. So please remember when you’re in that store, that you don’t know the whole story for that family and maybe a smile and kind word or helping hand would mean the world to that mama.

  40. I was having ice cream with my kids the other day, sitting outside the ice cream shop. A family – mom, dad and three kids to in, come out. The parents don’t have ice cream and the boy balks at his dad’s request to have some of his. (This was NOT a situation of finances dictating this, let me say that). So then the mom is asking for some and admonishing him for not “being generous” and I am thinking well, I wouldn’t want anyone grabbing for my new bowl of ice cream. Then the girl walks up to the dad, a spoonful of ice cream extended to him and she asks, “Do you want some?” To which he says…”do you really want to give me some or are you just doing that so you won’t have things taken away?” I’m not a fan of kids being forced to share their drinks/ice cream/treats anyway. It’s one thing if it’s a bag of chips or a box of cookies but to have to share an individual serving shows a total lack of respect for a child and his/her humanity. Do adults get a soda or an ice cream and then have other people licking and slurping all over it? But on top of that, the girl TRIED to comply with the “family rules” and was admonished for that. Apparently physical compliance is not enough in that family; you have to comply with your thoughts as well.

  41. For dinner, we just serve, uh, what we planned to serve. The kid’s only choice is whether to eat it or not. Sometimes it’s their favorite, sometimes not. But I agreed wholeheartedly with this article – and we’re trying to live it. My take on the food example is that it focuses on manipulation. I’ve never once asked “peas or carrots” so I could then later berate my kids, “you chose peas!!! So you better eat those peas!!” Instead, we just serve the peas. Sometimes my kids help us cook and help choose, mostly not. In any case – whether they helped pick them or not – there’s no bullying to eat at the table. I do have one rule: they get seconds of anything (or dessert) when they’ve TRIED everything on their plate. Our manta? “You don’t have to like it…but you do have to try it.” We talk a lot about how you can learn to like foods, and it often evolves into discussions about WHY they don’t like something. My 5 yr old will routinely add lemon or a little salt to something and try it again. (The 2 yr old is too young for our try-everything rule, however.)

    But there are nights they don’t eat much. Although I find that hungry kids DO eat. Almost anything. 🙂

    Anyway, Jennifer, I’d love your thoughts. This is one area that I feel pretty good about, but am always looking for feedback. 🙂

    • When my kids are hungry, they eat. I try to be preemptive though- if they do not eat dinner we either leave it on the table after cleaning up so they can munch when they feel like it, or I offer them something before going to bed.

  42. I think kids needs boundaries, everybody needs them. Without them will be difficult to have a healthy relationships and environment in every circle we interact. The question is who is the ultimate authority that can mark the lines?
    I think is a wise, creative and loving mother or father who looks for wisdom in God.

  43. I absolutely agree that the way we parent our children models behaviors that we should not be surprised to see duplicated. I agree that most of not all of that list should be taken to heart and that the way we approach our children needs to change.

    To say that it is the cause of this epidemic of bullying that we see, I think is insufficient. There has been a dramatic increase in bullying–not just on what’s publicized about it but in its very occurence. I think we need to address more than parenting issues… Because parents have been bullying children since the dawn of time, so this harmful practice cannot be the cause of the increase of bullying.

    There are many factors of course, and I believe our parenting is one of them. But let’s not ignore the many other things that can and should be done–such as providing children with physically challenging environments, monitoring and reducing access to social media, teaching children how to use these mediums effectively, and equipping them to positively express emotions!

  44. Pingback: How We Bully Our Children By Imposing Our Values on Them | Presence Parenting