I know from my own experience how damaging being bullied is, it can take a life time to recover from the effects of bullying and we know in extreme cases some have taken their own lives. Those playground names stick hard and can be very difficult to shake off.
There is no one size fits all for bullying and despite zero tolerance in schools and disciplinary procedures in workplaces bullying happens. Sadly I think bullying will always be a part of our society as competition exists. In an ideal world there would be no bullies but they exist not just in the class room and playgrounds but in the work place and boardrooms. Life is not fair and not everyone plays nice, but I believe cracking down on the bullies doesn’t always help that much. I don’t think you can stamp out bullying I think we need a different more kind approach. You can’t police out bullying we need to build more empathy and thought for others to stop bullying.
People bully for a number of reasons but with children its often a lack of skills and ability to care for others. It may also be down to their need to feel safe that they need to assert their power over others. If they struggle to make relationships they may try to do this by force. Its possible that bullying is learnt behaviour if I hit you or shout at you then you do as I say, is this what has happened to them? (Worth thinking about if you are a parent or teacher). Those who feel insecure in themselves do not need to pull others down in order to feel OK about themselves.
It’s important to remember that the bully may well be the victim of bullying too. The bully may appear to have lots of friends and be very popular but possibly those friendships are based on fear. It may be safer to do what the bully says rather than go against someone scary, so the friendships may not be real and genuine but more created out of fear.
There maybe a lot of work to be done to help a bully to feel secure enough to let go of their aggressive damaging behaviours and build empathy so they can see things from others point of view. To build empathy we have to model it to the bully. Often those who don’t care have not experienced enough care and have not had enough of their own needs met. We build relationships based on the relationships we have.
Any parent is going to want to protect their child and a bullied parent will be more likely to step in quickly if it triggers reminders of their own overwhelming bullying days then their may be their distress and their childs leading to feelings of anxiety panic or helplessness. If the bullying is dangerous then of course step in to keep them safe, but read on to see if there is room to let your child deal with it themselves.
Rescuing Children or Building Skills
If your child is coping then it may be better to give them the opportunity to stop the bullying themselves. Being able to stand up for your self is an essential skill to have in this world. To find your voice in any relationship is essential so time to start building those skills. If your child lacks confidence or self esteem they are at risk of being bullied in the workplace or their adult relationships. Building your child’s self esteem, coping skills and resilience to deal with big feelings are important skills for life, bullying can often be a sign that some extra skills are required.
Rescuing a child may make things worse
Its hard not to step in but its possible that your attempts to rescue your child make them more helpless. Do you give them a message that they can’t deal with it themselves? It’s hard to find the right balance too little or too much support leaves a child struggling but think before you race to the heads office is there another way.
Stepping in to early
If you rescue our child do they feel embarrassed by your intervention, did they want you to fix it or did they just want you to listen, try to manage your own distress and your child may well manage theirs. If you can stay calm and talk things through ask your child what they need you to do, working together rather than just rescuing and seek some support if necessary..
Its time to do something different?
As bullying is such a problem and empathy is hard to find do we need to do something different in our homes, schools and colleges. The best education our children have is from what they witness from the adults around them. If you are shouting to get what you want from a child then don’t be surprised when a child shouts to get what they want from their class mate. Empathy can’t be taught but it can be caught, model the behaviours you want. Experiential learning is how your child learns empathy, to be kind and share.
Dealing With The Bullies
Its really easy to punish a bully because they have been cruel and unkind but what does this really achieve. The bully may just feel angry even less powerless than they did before and its unlikely to stop them from bullying they may just get worse as they feel further misunderstood and their need to feel safe and in control grows. Do we need to get curious rather than critical.
I have witnessed a child who was caught bullying being shouted at in a school corridor by an angry teacher and then I ask myself, how valued does that child feel, do they feel ashamed and even more worthless. We have to be very careful that as adult’s we keep our anger under control and that our parenting or teaching methods don’t turn into power and control or even bullying.
Teaching through example and modelling
If you want a calm child and empathic child that’s respectful of others we need to start by modelling that behaviour. Taking a toy off a child that can’t share doesn’t really do that. Maybe we talk about the difficulties of sharing and help the child to choose to share rather than be forced to share! That doesn’t create empathy it creates anger! Melt downs are likely as children struggle to manage big feelings, you’re the adult so take the time to help them manage, with calm conversations.
Children learn from experience best so the lectures don’t have anywhere near the same affect as experience does. These experiences shape little peoples brains and get them using all of their brain rather than just the panic bit.
Deal with the feelings to change behaviours
Dealing with big feelings means the behaviour are more likely to simmer down as its big feelings that drive behaviours. If we ignore the feelings the behaviours will get worse not better. The meanest people need the kindness the most because they need to know what it feels like to be cared for.
There are no magic wands for bullying but here are things that definitely help.
- Having someone who can listen to your feelings really helps even if they don’t have solutions.
- Having someone to help build skills and find your voice is vital
- Learning to express the sadness, hurt and anger in a safe and healthy way keeps things from building up
- Watch out for coping methods that cold be harmful such as self harm
- Step in if the bullying has become unmanageable to keep your child safe.
- Building resilience is the best way to keep kids safe from the bullies.
- Promoting empathy and understanding of why people bully is also useful to prevent your child turning into the bully.
- Assigning a buddy maybe helpful for some children
- Friendships and arguments can be short with children so give things time.
If you are an adult struggling with your own feelings then support can help you manage your feelings so you can then in turn help your child with theirs.
Individual or family support is available if you need it.