I listen to Ryan Seacrest’s morning show sometimes when I am taking the kids to school. Today his guest talked about bullies and what to do if your child is bullied.
His guest explained that her 8 year old was being teased at school. The guest (mom) clarified that she wasn’t sure if it was considered bullying or just the preliminary stages. She also explained her idea for how to deal with the bully. Ryan loved one of her ideas. I thought the idea was in good intention, but I really believe it could potentially make things worse for her child….
First lets break down bullying before I share the idea.
What is bullying?
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.
(definition of bullying provided by StopBullying.gov)
I think this is a really good definition however; I think more than just school aged children can be bullies including teens and full grown adults.
Where do bullies come from?
I firmly believe that children are born a clean slate (yep that’s what Dr.Phil says too). There are always genetics involved however, the majority of bad behaviors are learned. What makes a bully?
- Typically children who bully are either being taught that teasing and tormenting is acceptable and even funny by a parent or other relative.
- Children may become bullies because they are being bullied themselves. They are using the anger they feel from being bullied and displacing it on another person. Usually a target that they deem as weaker or defenseless.
- Some children become bullies and haven’t been bullied themselves. They are going through extremely stressful situations and the way they react and deal with that stress is by bullying other children. In other words these children do not know how to effectively communicate, so they “bully” instead. Have you ever heard the phrase “Hurt people, Hurt people”? Some children internalize while others seek out to hurt.
- Some children start calling names and teasing just to push their limits. They may not have ever been bullied themselves, but they are not being taught appropriate social behavior. For example an older child teasing his younger sibling. Nothing is done to stop or correct the behavior and therefore the child is enabled to continue the “bullying” pattern.
- Lastly and this is a little more rare but I’ve seen it. The child is taught that he/she can do no wrong. This child has been enabled to the point where they are the victim and they are just fighting back even if there’s nothing to fight against. This type of bully is ego-centrical and always feels that others are attacking them therefore they have the right to bully. Usually parents or loved ones are encouraging the ego-centrical behavior by never making them own or correct poor choices or bad behaviors.
I have dealt with several instances of bullying with my 10 year old son. Three of which fell directly in these categories. One child was being taught how to bully and the other one was going through some really tough things at home, the third was the egocentric bully who always felt attacked even though he wasn’t, so he turned to bully others.
Once at my son’s basketball game he was constantly being strangled, elbowed and pushed by another child. I addressed it with the coach as I saw my son was getting more aggravated. The other team had a very aggressive coach and there was some tension in the crowd. Gavin finally snapped and pushed back. The dad of the other child rushed the court and tried to attack our coach. We promptly took Gavin and left. While in the parking lot the mother of the child approached me and waved her camera in the air meanwhile screaming that “she had it all on tape” and to get control of my son. Because of the tolerance of this event the refusal by the league to take action, our coach quit and removed his child and Gavin did not play either. I even offered to the person who ran the league to give a anti-bullying class. Obviously that didn’t happen.
In this case the child was obviously learning these behaviors at home and they were also being tolerated and encouraged .
How parent’s of Bullies may react…
Ryan Seacrest’s guest had an idea to have her 8 year old write the parents of the other girl that was teasing her. She felt like it would be far more impactful coming from her. I see her point, but knowing what I do about bullies, chances are this behavior was learned and/or condoned by someone at home. There is usually a small percent of parent’s of bullies that would be surprised that their child was bullying. If the child sent the letter I believe that the parents would react in a few different ways.
- Get defensive “How dare you accuse my child!”
- Turn on Bully Mode “Ha, did you see the letter this girl sent, what a dummy !”
- Start retaliation against the parent and or child.
- Talk to the child about hurting others and how it’s not right. (most of the time this doesn’t happen because usually the bullying is a pattern or learned behavior)
What can you do to Stop Bullying?
- Ask questions like “Why do you think a bully, bullies? Do you think that someone is hurting them so they hurt others.
- If your child hurts another child ask them “Why did you hurt that person?” and “How would it feel if someone did that to you?” “What should you do instead?”
- Teach your children to stand up for what is right and to become a anti-bully activist. My son says he has tons of friends and that he is “popular” (um ok) so I tell him that if he has an influence on others and if he ever sees other kids bullying or teasing to help the other child and empathize with the bully. Others will follow his lead.
- Push for teachers to help address the issue all of the time…. Every time a teacher hears a child calling a name or hurting another child she needs to address it and facilitate a conversation between the two kids. This teaches the bully how to become more intrinsic and empathetic and teaches the victim how to express their feelings. Ask the bully “How would it feel if I said those things about you?”
- Teach your child how to react…. If someone calls you a name or hits you do not do it back. PERIOD… I know this is hard. Children are usually hurting others because they are hurt!!
- Teach your child how to react appropriately by addressing the bully in an empathetic tone. A good response would be ” That really hurts my feelings, and I would never say something like that to you because I wouldn’t want to hurt you.” or turn the tables “How would you feel if I called you that name?”
- Teach empathy. Ask your child “Why do you think this child is acting this way?” Ask your child ” He/she is obviously hurting? What can you do to help this child?”
My Bullying Story
As a middle school student I was frequently teased about my looks by one particular boy on the bus. I would say I was bullied, mainly because it never stopped. I cringed to get on the bus everyday fearing what he would say that day.
The bully stopped when a sweet and blonde headed “popular” girl befriended me and took me under her wing. She never really had to defend me verbally but I believe that her actions and her friendship legitimized my worth to the other child. See sometimes you don’t have to fight back, other children who are kind and empathetic are able to stand up to bullies by be-friending the one who is being bullied and creating a friendship sheild. Before my friendship with Sarah I was a sitting duck. Her kindness and her ability to see beyond my looks was all it took. (We are still friends to this day!)
Lastly, you may think that some of these things may go in one ear and out the other but they don’t. You as a parent must model good positive relationships. Catch siblings and children in the act of bullying, teasing or just being mean and talk about it. Give children alternate ways to communicate and release their stress.
Bully starts at home but it can also STOP at home.
Have you ever been bullied? Has your child ever been bullied? What did you do to solve the issue?