02/26/2019 11:56 EST | Updated 04/10/2019 11:04 EDT

On Pink Shirt Day, It's Time For A Hard Look On How Bullying Can Start At Home

No one should be treated disrespectfully because of their age.

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Modelling is a strong teacher to impressionable children.

Feb. 27, 2019 is Pink Shirt Day in Canada — a day to raise awareness about bullying — while April 10, 2019 is known as the Day of Pink. (The distinction between the two is further explained by Xtra here.)

Whatever its name, we as a nation need to take a serious look at this issue. In a recent UNICEF report card, Canada was shown to have one of the highest bullying rates in comparison to other developed countries.

Let me start by addressing how we speak about bullying. Children are not bullies; that's using a label. Labels like "bully," "stupid," and "brat" hurt because children internalize the label as part of their identity, which makes it harder for them to change.

Instead, we need to say "children who bully" because it allows us to separate the person from their choice of actions. A child can make a different choice, and stop using bullying behaviour.

WATCH: What you should know about bullies. Story continues below.

It's also important to understand that bullying is but one sub-type or example of relational aggression. Relational aggression can happen throughout the life stages, but we use different terms depending on the age and situation. Here are some examples from youngest to oldest; bullying in childhood, date rape in young adults, hazing in university, sexual harassment in the workplace, domestic violence in marriages, elder abuse in senior care.

In all these examples, relational aggression in the form of abusive power and force (both physical and psychological) is applied on another person in ways that create fear and that are disrespectful and degrading.

Bullying is often learned at home

Sadly, many children learn bullying behaviour at home. Modelling is a strong teacher to impressionable children. While most of us wouldn't say we "bully" our children, the truth is that many adults (parents, teachers, coaches) do use some form of relational aggression as a way to make children mind their will. We might try control, coercion, yelling, spanking, shaming and other punitive tactics under the guise of "discipline."

The media has covered stories of parents using social media for the purpose of publicly shaming their children. Often, these posts go viral. That's cyber-bullying. Similarly, if an adult strikes a child, we call it a spanking. That's assault. Most countries have banned spanking. Not Canada.

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As a society, we still alter the moral rules of treating others with respect and dignity when we are tasked with parenting. Why? Because it is our tradition, and it has gone largely unchallenged. In an era of democracy, we have to embrace the right of all individuals to be treated as social equals. Social equality doesn't mean the "same as."

It means that no one should be treated disrespectfully because of their sex, religion, colour, sexual orientation or, yes — even their age.

Children who have not had an opportunity to learn what a healthy relationship looks like at home will come to believe that all interactions between people are about determining who has power over others. Children who have not learned to get their way constructively in the family, through speaking up, being heard, problem solving together, will resort to negative paths to get what they want.

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How we treat our children at home has a powerful effect on how they will treat others.

And when a child has been thwarted from discovering positive ways to be powerful through leadership, mastery of skills and personal independence, they tend to take a lazy short cut on the wrong side of life to look big and gain status by making others shrink in their presence.

If we want to address bullying in children, we have to starting talking about how adults treat one another and how they correct their children's behaviors.

Are you prepared to open your eyes and look critically at our typical practices? Are you willing to investigate positive discipline approaches instead? That would be a great commitment in support of anti-bullying.

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