Read any article on bullying and you’ll notice that the word bully should not refer to a person. The word bully should be used to describe a behavior. The behavior is usually demonstrated because the child has a deep need for control, especially during developmental years. Bullying is also a repetitive behavior that involves a power imbalance.
Call me old fashioned but while “developmental years” may contribute to a more conducive environment for bullying, I don’t believe that the behavior always starts with the child. Many children seem to be learning some of their behaviors at home. Regardless of how the behavior begins, it should end with one or both parents setting boundaries. In my limited time here on earth, the bullying I have witnessed both as a child and as an adult was socially patterned behavior.
I am willing to bet that most children who are repeating their bully behavior are hurting and insecure inside their own hearts. The anger that they take out on others is only a slight percentage of what they may endure in his or her home life. This is where their need for control comes in. Does this mean that there aren’t scenarios where, for all intents and purposes, a normal kid doesn’t engage in this behavior? No, but this is where parenting and accountability comes into the equation. The parent’s responsibility is to end that behavior immediately and be aware of his or her child’s understanding of right and wrong.
How do you bully-proof your child? On the flip side, how do you stop your child’s potential negative behavior towards another? Be his or her advocate and give them perspective.
When my son was in elementary school, two larger boys decided that he was their target. On the playground at school they would consistently shove and push him. On the bus they would call him names and threaten him. It got to be so bad that he was afraid to go to school. I told him to sit in a different seat on the bus. They would find him. I informed the teacher and asked her to keep an eye on the boys. Then I put him in Tae Kwon Do because his dad practiced martial arts and I believed it would build his confidence. One day the two boys came up to him in the playground armed with their usual bullying behavior. In Tae Kwon Do the instructor had taught my son to hook an assailants leg so they would fall and disable him. Unbeknownst to me, that day, my son decided to implement that little move. They never picked on him again. My son took away the element of power imbalance.
Also in elementary school, my same son engaged in behavior that could be considered bullying because it was repetitive and the child involved was in a weaker position. My son and another child pretended they were playing Pokemon. My son was the trainer, the second child was the Pokemon and the third child was the target. My son would release the Pokemon onto a third child. My understanding was that this happened on the bus, it happened several times and the child was intimidated and went home to his mother, visibly upset and no longer amused. Mom called me and the ball was put in my court. I had two choices, I could chalk it up to a stupid kids game and ignore the situation, or I could sit down with my son and discuss boundaries and behavior. I chose the latter. I sat down with my son and he was indignant. He said it was a game, that the child was a participant and that it was no big deal.
It was a big deal! The child was younger and therefore in a position of weakness. Not only that, it was very obvious that the behavior would continue unless I dealt with it. It became clear that my own child did not see the importance of what I was communicating, so I yanked him off the bus for the rest of the year. It was inconvenient, driving him every single day to school, but it was necessary in order to teach this lesson to my son. Believe me, he understood that lesson by the end of the year.
I can tell you that as an advocate for my child I was aware of how he was treated and how he was treating others. Teaching all of my children empathy has been one of the most important lessons I have ever taught. Advocacy…..this is the number one weapon against bullying. Advocacy for my son and advocacy for those around him.
Be your child’s advocate. This is how you protect your child and also how you teach them empathy and proper behavior. You teach them to be an advocate for themselves and for others. Give them perspective. Another human being’s ugly behavior is not a reflection on your child, it is a reflection on the person engaging in the behavior. If your child is too young to advocate for themselves then it is up to you as a parent to do it for them. Reach out to the school, to the other parent and to your own child. Be aware of cyber bullying and what your child is doing online.
Talk to them about their day. One tradition we have in our house that works really well is a dinner-time game. Each person goes around the table and tells the others “what was the best part of your day and what was the worst part of your day?” You would be surprised at how this encourages children to talk and seek support from those who love them most. This daily ritual helps them handle the ups and downs of their daily lives. Try it!
Bully-proof your child by being aware, involved and supportive. The skills you teach your child today will last a lifetime. What are your experiences with bullying? As more stories of cyber bullying and suicide invade the media, it’s time to realize that the solution to the problem lies not with the experts, but with us, the parents.