Can Tolerance Cause More Bullying?


I took my son to the public pool last week.  We had a wonderful time and learned a lesson to last a lifetime.  He was standing in line at the diving board as I was watching from a few feet away.  I noticed that he was talking with a slightly older boy and it appeared the conversation was becoming quite animated.  I resisted my desire to intervene and waited to see what would happen.  After a few more moments my son turned to me and said, “dad he says that I cannot wear a swim shirt on the diving board.”  In uncharacteristic fashion I quickly shot back my response, “it doesn’t matter what he says, it matters what the lifeguard says!”  Just at that moment a lifeguard walked by and I boldly asked, “Is it ok if he wears a swim shirt on the diving board?”  The lifeguard said, “yes!” and walked on without giving it a second thought.  The boys accepted the lifeguard’s answer and continued practicing their cannon balls.

As I reflected on this very brief interaction I began to wonder what it was about this lifeguard (a teenager) that caused the boys to move on so quickly from their disagreement.  Was it his confidence or age?  Maybe it was his gender or personality?  I don’t think so!  I think they accepted his answer because he was viewed as an expert on this topic.  He knows this pool, he is there everyday, he is in charge of safety, and it is his responsibility to enforce the posted rules.

The boys knew that this person’s opinion was important.  It did not matter what anyone else had to say on the subject.  This guy in the red swim trunks and way too dark tan was the final authority.

I am afraid that the art of discerning whose opinion matters has been stripped away from our school age children.  I wonder if in our rush to teach tolerance and acceptance we have inadvertently made our children targets for loud-mouthed bullies?

The Cambridge online dictionary defines tolerance as “willingness to accept behavior and beliefs that are different from your own, even if you disagree with or disapprove of them.”  It also lists acceptance as a synonym for tolerance.

Please do not get me wrong, I strongly believe in the inherent value of all people.  Each person is wonderfully valuable and deserves to be treated with the utmost respect.  I do suggest however that not all opinions or beliefs are of equal value.  The opinion of the young boy trying to tell my son what he could and could not wear was of very little value.  He was wrong, misguided, and unreliable.  This is not to say that the boy himself was of little value just his opinion.

What does this have to do with bullying?  Well in my experience as a school counselor and therapist I find that those children that are most susceptible to verbal and emotional bullying are those who accept all opinions equally.  Somehow they have learned to accept all opinions and beliefs as truth no matter the source.  Unfortunately, many times this includes all opinions and beliefs that others have about them.  So, It appears that they accept the opinion of the kid who calls them stupid, weak, or ugly as equally valid to the adult who refers to them as kind, intelligent, or strong.  This in my opinion is a horrible mistake and we as parents make an even bigger mistake when we teach our kids that all opinions and beliefs are to be equally accepted.

Simply, it is not true.  My opinion regarding politics for instance is of significantly less value than that of the President of the United States.  It does not mean that I cannot express my opinion loudly and vehemently, but loud and passionate does not make true and accurate.   In the same way a fellow classmates opinion about my child’s level of strength, intelligence, or athletic ability is of much less value than my child’s opinions about himself.

I am regularly asked to referee disagreements about the value of playground opinions.  I have come up with a standard response that I find pretty effective.  When Jimmy runs up to me and says, “Mr. Vander Ley Billy called me a douche bag!” (or some other derogatory name)  Jimmy expects that I will get upset with Billy.  He anticipates consequences and passionate pleas for Billy to be kind and friendly.  I take Jimmy off guard however, when I ask a simple and pointed question.  “Are you a douche bag Jimmy?” “Uh, no” Is the usual response.  “Good, I didn’t think you were, it doesn’t matter what Billy says.”  Off they run to complete their game of girls chase boys (if it hasn’t been banned at their school)

Rather than teaching our children to value all opinions and beliefs equally let’s teach them to discern opinions and beliefs based on sources.  Who are the experts in the field?  Who has put in the time to know this topic?  Who is safe and who is reliable?  If we teach our children to be discerning about truth I think they will come to realize that they are the experts in the field of me.  Their parents and trusted teachers hold reliable information about who they are and what they are good at.  The verbally aggressive playground bully does not know them and is not a trusted source of information.  More importantly this playground bully’s opinion does not create truth regarding their person.  The truth about a child is based in their inherent personal value.  They can sense this value from loving adults who are passionately engaged in the wonder of becoming an expert in the field of them.  Go now you passionate parents and uncover the infinite mystery that is your child!


As a younger man I thought anger was a really effective tool for working with kids.  I thought it worked because when I got angry I yelled, when I yelled my voice changed from monotone kindness to something that sounded like a growl from hell.  When my voice changed to this scary growl from hell kids listened.  In my mind this worked.   I would ignore frustrations, hurts, or annoyances until I could ignore no more, then I would explode with a scary tone.  Once I had exploded I felt a lot better, my feelings had been expressed and the people around me seemed to “understand.”

            I have two vivid memories of discovering that my explosive anger was not helping people to understand me but to fear me.

            I was working as a direct care staff at a residential facility for teens.  These were normal kids who had struggled at home; they came to us to heal their family relationships.  I was very young myself but had been charged with the task of “parenting” and leading these teens.  One day toward the end of my yearlong commitment of service, I had asked a young man to complete his chore by taking out the trash.  A few minutes later I peeked out the door to check on him and realized he had been distracted while “sword fighting” with a broom.  I felt the anger well up inside of me, whipped open the door and growled, “Stop screwing around and get to work!”

            Just then a new staff member appeared around the corner. (Literally having arrived the day before) I had this instant feeling of being caught.  I felt embarrassed and ashamed.  I also felt powerful because of how quickly that boy jumped to attention and finished his chore.

            A couple years later while working as a youth pastor, I taught a 7th grade Sunday school class.  This class was challenging for me; there was a difficult mixture of the “popular” kids and those that were “annoying”.  One Sunday was filled with especially snotty remarks and I could take it no longer.  I laid into them with talk of kindness, respect, and love all in my characteristic growl of anger.  The room grew silent and I could see their faces fill with what I thought was remorse.

            Shortly after arriving home from that Sunday school class I received a phone call from a concerned parent.   Her daughter who tended to be pretty sensitive and was not involved in the snotty remarks had returned home in tears.  The parent asked what had occurred and if I could speak with her daughter.

            As I began to mature and gain some much needed self-reflection skills these two incidents stuck in my mind.  What was this experience that simultaneously produced feelings of guilt, shame, and power?  Was this technique that seemed to produce such a swift response in people really working?

            More growth and first time fatherhood brought about increased pressure and self-reflection.  The most profound realization of my need to change came one night as I was attempting to console my newborn baby.  He had been crying for what seemed like hours and we had tried everything we knew to soothe him.  I held him close to me as he screamed and writhed in my arms.  The thought that kept coming to mind was, “STOP BEING SUCH A BABY” I wanted to yell it at the top of my lungs.  I felt the anger welling up and had nothing but a worthless growl voice to rely on.

            That is the moment I realized that anger is a primitive and under developed parenting skill.  My growl was useless in the face of my son’s tears.  Actually, if I had used my go to skill it would have only made the situation worse and created fear rather than love.   My growl of anger had evoked action in the teens I worked with but only out of fear.  All these years when I thought I was effectively motivating, I was really fearfully motivating.  If I was to become the parent my son needed I would be required to find new ways of managing my emotions and responses.

            In the years since that night in the nursery, I am thankful to have gotten a handle on my anger.  I have learned to express frustration and discontent in the moment rather than allowing it to build up.  I have developed a better sense of personal boundaries in relation to work, family, and friends.   I have learned that an out of control parent is very scary for a child.  When children are scared of their parents they miss out on the opportunity to learn from their own mistakes.

            There are still moments when my anger builds inside of me.  I feel warm and become tempted to motivate with fear.  There are also moments when I slip back to using my primitive and underdeveloped skill of anger.  I am hopeful that as I continue to grow and reflect these moments will become less intense and less regular.  May you experience the same joy of self-control.

Read Angry Art

Read Angry parents

How have you learned to control your Anger?

I’ve Been Profiled

When I think of profiling or stereotyping I usually think of the racial type.  I am thankful to have never encountered the significant consequences of being profiled.  My experience consists of being the only Caucasian boy on a baseball team made up of all Hispanic boys; they gave me the nickname “white boy”.

Today however, I discovered that I had been profiled based on my religious beliefs.  I received a message from a fellow dad blogger saying that he owed me an apology.   He had read my twitter profile beginning with “I am a follower of Christ” and instantly wrote me “off” based on his previous assumptions about Christians.  He went to my blog and discovered that most of my posts began by quoting a bible passage.  This was more evidence in his mind that I fit the profile he was thinking of.

I am not exactly sure what assumptions were made about me based on those words, “I am a follower of Christ”, but I spent the day wondering about it.  I wonder if he expected my blog to be full of articles railing against homosexuality, gun control, and President Obama?  I wonder if he expected to read about the evils of abortion, or a call to boycott some movie, company, or product?  I wonder if he expected my blog to feel argumentative, judgmental, condescending, or arrogant?  Maybe he just didn’t want to read about how good God is when there is so much crap going on in the world.

To my delight, this dad blogger has written a post telling the story of how after his initial visit to my blog he had a separate conversation that provided him with increased insight regarding his profiling of Christians.  Following this exchange he returned to my blog for a second look and wrote this about his experience;

 I went back to that first blog. This time, rather than flee at the sight of scripture, I stayed a while and read his last three posts. Turns out, he’s just a guy trying to live a good life. That life, for him, is rooted in his faith. His posts may play off of the selected bible verses that precede them, but mostly he just writes about being a dad.

            I really appreciate that this blogger took the time to get to know me.  He spent time listening rather than talking and made a true effort to understand my perspective.  He discovered that I was not what he thought I was.  Through my writing he was able to discover the true picture of who I am.  I am just a guy living a life rooted in faith trying to be a dad.

            I fully believe that a posture of listening, understanding, respecting, and loving could change our society.  When we truly get to know someone we begin to realize that they are a unique individual separate from assumptions based on labels and appearances.  Thank you dad blogger friend for beginning a dialogue and moving beyond your previously held assumptions.  

"Stuff Dads Say" E-BOOK

This is the final post in my Series “Stuff Dads Say”.  What I thought would take a couple of months wound up taking more like six but I am excited to have covered what I believe are the most important messages that dads send their children.  I am even more excited to let you know that I have compiled all of my “Stuff Dads Say” posts into a very affordably priced E-book.  This book is a short and encouraging read that would be a perfect “virtual stocking stuffer” for a husband, son in law, grandpa, or new father.  Check out the links below to read more about it.


I’m Sorry

I totally screwed up the other day!  It had been a long week, a long day at work, and when I arrived home things were a bit chaotic.  I lost my temper, and snapped at my oldest son.  My tone of voice was angry, the words were shorter than normal, and I am sure my facial expression was scary.  I cannot recall what pushed me over the edge, but I can see the look on his face.

            I now see that my angry response triggered an angry response in him, which only made the whole situation worse.  As I have reflected on my anger over the last few days I am reminded of something I once heard a speaker say.  He said that the most important thing he ever did as a parent was to apologize when he messed up.  I have tried to keep this advice in my mind specifically for times like these.

            A couple of times in my experience as a parent I have apologized to my children and seen the immediate calming, and healing effects of the words, “I am sorry.”  Another time that sticks out to me is a situation in which I jumped to conclusions about my son’s actions.  I walked into the house thinking I knew exactly what happened and began handing out consequences before getting the facts.  As the injustices of my uninformed decisions mounted I could sense my son puffing up with defensiveness and frustration.  His reactions got larger and the tears began to roll.

            As I came to my senses and began to learn more about the situation I realized my mistake.  I had misunderstood, over-reacted, and been wrong.  Due to the wise words of the previously mentioned speaker,  I realized my mistake, apologized to my son and immediately saw him deflate.  He calmed down, relaxed, and opened up to me about what had happened.  He could put down his defenses, as he was no longer being attacked.

            Apologizing when we make mistakes disarms a situation; it demonstrates humility, strength, and honesty.  If we as parents are willing to apologize our children will be more willing to apologize as well.   “I’m sorry” is a crucial message to send to your children.  It allows them to understand that you are not perfect, you are doing your best but make mistakes.  Saying I’m sorry also gives them permission to make mistakes.  They will learn to handle their own mistakes by following your model.

 What is your experience with apologizing to your children?

The Wisdom of Solomon???

My kids fight!  I am not sure why, I am not always sure what about.  All I know is that sometimes just when I think things are going really well and I have got it all under control, people start hitting each other.

Most of the time these fights, and other crazy things occur when I am not in the same room with my children.   They are downstairs and I am trying to catch a moment of stillness, or I am changing the baby while they are playing in the other room.  Typically one of them will run to me and begin to recount the story of what happened.  These are the moments of parenting that I find most difficult.  What do you do?  It feels good to support the crying child, tear into the other room and bring “justice” to the situation.   Unfortunately, I am not really sure what happened,  Who hit who?  Why did he hit you?  It can all be quite disorienting.

Someone told me once to never place myself as the judge in these types of situations.  I was told that these scenarios are lose, lose for parents and children.  If we choose the crying child, the “hitter” feels unloved.  If we choose the “hitter” the “cryer” feels unloved.   I was advised, instead to intervene with comfort and then a question to both parties.  Provide comfort to the hurting child and then ask the question, how are you going to handle that?

I really like this question it can be used in many situations and it always provokes thought.  It is so tempting, and usually easier for parents to give answers, provide solutions, or give instructions.  Asking, How are you going to handle that creates discussion, it allows your child to think through their choices and hopefully to make one.  The best part is that when they make a choice and act on it, no matter how it turns out they are responsible.  If they choose wisely and the situation turns out well, they are responsible experiencing a wonderful sense of accomplishment and joy.  On the other hand, if they choose unwisely, they are also responsible for those actions.  They are left to face the natural consequences of their behavior with no one to blame but themselves.

What other questions do you find yourself asking your child?
How do you promote thought in tough situations?

Stuff Dads Say

Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding.

Proverbs 4:1

I am always a little shocked by how much my children actually hear what I say.  It is even scarier to realize how much they watch what I do.  Several years ago I had picked our boys up from school and was driving home when from the back seat I heard my oldest say the word stupid.  I quickly turned around and said,  “Hutson we do not say stupid.”   Later that same evening the boys and I ventured into the back yard to play in our sandbox.  As I dragged off the cover, designed to keep the neighbors cat from pooping in our sand, I discovered a nasty deposit.  I scooped out the poop and said under my breath, “stupid cat”.   Hutson came running over from about 15 feet away, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Dad, we do not say stupid!”  Ouch, the painful humility of realizing my own hypocrisy.  I was reminded of how powerfully the words and actions of a father impact the lives of their children.

I strongly believe that the messages fathers send, stated and unstated, have a profound impact on how their sons (and daughters) come to view the world, God, themselves, and others.  I have compiled a list of the top ten most important messages all boys need to hear from their fathers.  I believe these messages should be sent over and over again throughout a son’s life.  They are paying attention and will gain understanding.  The question is, understanding of what?  Over the next several months I will be expanding upon each point with one or more posts dedicated to each message.

The most important messages every boy needs to hear from his father

  1. No Kicking in the face
  2. Where does it hurt?
  3. Come on, I need your help
  4. Let’s go on an adventure
  5.  Oh, Let’s try that again
  6.  Let’s go help mom
  7.   How are you going to handle that?
  8.  I’m sorry
  9.   What do you think about that?
  10.  How do you ask nicely?

I have caught myself saying each one of these phrases.  Before having kids I never imagined that they would become part of my parenting vocabulary.  I am excited to share with you how they have shaped my journey as a father and how I believe they continue to shape the way my sons view the world.

What messages do you think should be added to the list?
What messages did you hear from your dad?
How do “father” messages play a role in how children view God?  

Angry Parents


Why does a person get angry?  What is it about a child’s behavior that can cause a parent to lose control?  Parents get angry and lose control with their children when they experience stress or anxiety above their levels of tolerance.  Typically, when parents experience this level of stress, one of their four core fears—danger, failure, loss of love, and loss of control— has been triggered by their children’s behavior.  Often, the end result of this fear is the parent’s extreme emotional response to the situation.  Learning to identify and better understand the impact of these fears in our parenting helps us learn to maintain better personal control with our children.


The fear of their child being seriously hurt, emotionally or physically.  Parents who experience this core fear feel anxious when their child takes risks or is out of their sight.  The most common way of relieving this anxiety is to protect.  These parents have a hard time maintaining personal control when their efforts to protect are being avoided by the child.


The fear of failing as a parent, or their child failing as an adult.  Parents who experience this core fear work hard to make their child a success and have a hard time maintaining personal control when their child’s behavior seems to work against them

Loss of love:

The fear of losing their child’s love.  Parents who experience this core fear may rely on their child for feelings of affirmation and value.  In times of trial they feel abandoned, alone, and betrayed by their child and may struggle to maintain personal control.

Loss of control:

The fear of losing control of their child or the situation.  Parents who experience this core fear see misbehavior as a sign of things to come.  They are afraid that if they don’t get things under control, their child will grow up to be a hardened criminal or worse.

We all lose our cool from time to time.  Being aware of our buttons, and what underlying fears trigger us to lose control can be very helpful.  spend some time reflecting on the last time that you lost your cool.  What was your child doing?  What were you doing?  Which one of the four core parenting fears triggered you?  Spending a few minutes in self reflection can help you to maintain control the next time your core fear is triggered.

Portions of this post are excerpts from my parenting workbook entitled “Parenting Peace”.

Read Angry Art

Read The Angry Growl


Educational Toys?

One of the hot toys for Christmas this year is the Leappad explorer tablet.  It is an Ipad like device made for children ages 4-9.  The leappad is marketed as an educational toy, meant to help children learn while having fun.  The educational toy market has exploded over the last decade.  Parents can walk down any aisle of the local toy store and find numerous toys claiming to increase learning in children.

I have never been a big fan of educational toys.  I am particularly wary of educational toys that take a video game, or computer like device and attempt to infuse it with educational material.  It is not that I don’t believe that children can learn from these devices.  I am just not convinced that these devices will teach my children more important lessons than other less technologically driven toys.

The national toy hall of fame has been inducting toys into its hall since 1998.  Some of the inductees are the jump rope, jig saw puzzle, alphabet blocks, the ball, and the cardboard box.  Now these are educational toys!  These classic toys will not teach your children facts or figures that are helpful for them at school.  However, they will teach them the social, problem solving, and critical thinking skills that will make them successful in relationships.

I think todays new educational toys prey on a parents desire to help their child achieve “the American dream”.  They tell us that without this educational tool our children will fall behind and never be able to compete in the world economy.  They tell us that the most important thing to learn is academic.  I believe however that the most important things for our children to learn are relational.  The relational skills developed when playing with interactive classic toys will help them to be truly successful.  They will learn the skills necessary to be good friends, parents, and citizens.

(in the spirit of full disclosure.  My boys do have a leapster 2.  Sometimes they prefer the cardboard boxes.)

The Best Toy Ever!!

What is your child’s favorite toy?  Maybe it’s a video game, hot wheels car, dump truck, cardboard box or YOU.  I would guess that you are their favorite toy hands down.  If you were to have them choose between playing some sort of interactive fun game with you or any one of their toys, I think they would choose YOU.

Authors Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley agree that parents are the most exciting playthings available for their children.  They imagine that even the most elaborate, bright colored, and well-designed toys cannot compete with the millions of different responses that parents are capable of making.  A child can press 10 buttons on a toy and the toy will make a few different sounds.  Maybe it will play some music and some different colored lights will turn on.  But a parent’s buttons if pushed in just the right manner can elicit a wonderful variety of responses full of varied emotion, volume, body language, facial expression, and vocabulary.

The difficult part for parents is that we tend to provide a more exciting and interesting response to our children when they are doing something wrong.  We use very sharp tones, and increased volume when correcting misbehavior.  We speak quickly and energetically when they are dawdling around getting ready for school.  We spend lots of time lecturing about why “such and such” was a bad choice, and why we must follow the rules.  How excited do we get when they do something desirable?  Usually our responses to the desired behaviors are much more reserved.  Maybe we give a “thank you” for putting the dish on the counter, or possibly a “way to go” when they are ready for school on time.   If they are lucky they might get a “high five” and a “way to go” for picking up their toys.

The very important question is, at what times do you provide the most energy to your child?  When are you most animated in your responses, when he is doing right or wrong?  Some parents get stuck in a rut of only providing feedback when their children are misbehaving.  But noticing when a child is behaving in a desirable manner and then responding with energy, excitement, and joy is a very powerful tool.  This tool can be used to encourage honesty, kindness, sharing, helpfulness, listening, impulse control, and many other desirable traits.

I challenge parents to intentionally spend more energy celebrating their children’s successes than disciplining mistakes.  As you begin to celebrate positive behavior your children will begin to display more of that behavior.  Children are very good at learning which buttons get the most exciting responses from their parents.  The more exciting response they get, the more they will push the button.  Be sure that your buttons are programmed for celebrating successes rather than failures.