Whenever my kids come home from school with a story about someone being mean to them my natural instincts are to leap into action, find this child, take them to their parents and make sure it never, ever happens again. But, then my reason kicks in, and I have to remind myself that the offending child was acting out of one of the two emotions that control most of our negative and positive behavior toward each other, fear and love.
When you come right down to it, every other action is truly a reaction to whether they are feeling fear or love at that moment. In the case of the child saying mean things to another child, that reaction, the mean words, is from fear. Whether it be fear of losing their status with their friends, fear of the other child taking some of their popularity, or perhaps one of their friends. They may simply be afraid that if they don't put other children down they may not be looked up to. When a child is talented or capable in a specific area that the other child is not, that can create a fear that they will be compared unfavorably to the more capable child. The feeling becomes threatening to them and they react out of fear by lashing out.
The alternative is true when positive reactions occur. These are a reaction to the love felt for the other person. That is evident in friendships where one friend supports the other regardless of whether it is reciprocated. I've seen people who are encouraging a friend as they reach for a goal, and never does that friend thank them or acknowledge what they've done. It is taken largely for granted. Why then does that person continue to support that friend? Because they love them.
In my work as a 911 dispatcher I often hear the frustration in other dispatchers after taking a nasty domestic violence call where the husband was arrested for beating his wife, just to take another call from the wife asking how she can bail her husband out of jail. It flies in the face of reason that she would want to take him back. In those cases it is not out of love as much as it is out of fear. She knows well that when he does get out of jail if he believes she is somehow responsible for the arrest he will probably take it out on her. If she bails him out of jail she is showing him, in her mind, that it was not her fault and that this is proof that she loves him. She also is often afraid that without him she will not survive, which is what most domestic violence suspects convince their victims of. Either they threaten to take everything away from the wife that she loves, or that they will take her financial security from her. The threat of losing their children or being alone is very real, and so they convince themselves that this is love on their part when truly it is fear. The husband convinces them that they only provide that security out of love, or that the wife should feel grateful that he sacrifices to provide for them. His motivation is also fear. Most often fear of abandonment whether real or imagined. He holds violently onto her out of fear of what may happen if he doesn't.
None of this makes behavior that is violent or threatening right. It just explains the motivation behind the anger. Sadly, the other emotion, love, can also create a sympathy in the wife for the husband that urges her to forgive him. It's a terrible circle, and difficult to walk away from if you are caught in it.
So, when I think of that child that called my child names or said mean things I have to wonder aloud with my child what it could be that this other child is afraid of. When you explain this to a child it is incredibly empowering because now they don't see that other child as having power over them, they see them as one who deserves their sympathy. Whether they show sympathy or not is not really important. What matters is how they feel about themselves.
I'm a mother of eleven children, wife of 32 years, Latter Day Saint, and 911 Dispatcher and a budding homesteader. Come along with me as I journey toward self sufficiency, one baby step at a time.
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