Over the past few years, a good number of school officials have told me that the problem of parental overreaction has become bigger than the problem of actual bullying. Occasional teasing doesn’t fit the definition proposed by Wikipedia and myself. Nor do one-time pranks like snack mix down the shirt, tripping, name-calling, or any other form of mischief that might cause embarrassment but is not done with the deliberate intention of keeping another child in a near-constant state of fear.
I was reminded of my conversation with the principal by an email recently received from the mother of a 21-month-old boy who, she claimed, had been bullied by a girl at his nursery school. The girl had pushed her son and grabbed a toy he had been playing with. Mom wanted me to recommend a book on bullies she could read her little one. First, that’s not bullying. That’s what toddlers occasionally do when they’re put in groups. Second, the mother’s overreaction, repeated over time, is likely to cause her son to become overly sensitive to any perceived slight, whether physical or verbal. Under the circumstances, he could quickly develop a victim mentality and do himself more mental harm than a bully would ever be capable of doing.
Sometimes — just sometimes mind you — adults would do well to say something along these lines to a complaining child: “If that’s all you’ve got to complain about, then you live a very good life.” Unfortunately, a principal or teacher can’t say anything along those lines these days without getting into hot water. A child’s parents can say it, though and sometimes — just sometimes, mind you — they should.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website at www.rosemond.com.