Monday, September 30, 2013

Bullying Begins at Home

Anti-bullying programs are all the rage these days.  And while those who write the propaganda don't usually word it this way, a "war on bullying" has been declared. The government even has their own anti-bullying website. 

All the promotion of anti-bullying and bullying prevention programs and curricula is missing the point, and may in fact be pointless or making things worse as you can read HERE at Psychology Today. We can't stop bullying by bullying the bullies. It's not logical and doing so, unfortunately, creates more hate and anger. 

One child torments another child, that child tells their parents, who call the school, which notifies the school counselor, who talks to the tormentor, which makes the tormentor feel picked on and angry, which causes them to lash out again, which causes the bullied child to tell their parents again, who call the school again, this time the tormentor's parents are notified, they punish their child, who feels picked on (dare we say bullied?) and even angrier....  

So, what is the answer? 

Children may become bullies because they have emotional, mental, or developmental problems, but most often children bully because they have been bullied. Children bully because it is a behavior that someone has modeled for them. Someone made them feel small and helpless, and now they are going to make someone else feel small and helpless so that they can feel bigger, stronger and in control. It's still a nasty cycle, but when we stop and ask "why is this child bullying?" instead of "how do we stop bullying?" we get an answer that stops the cycle.

Parents bully their kids, a lot! Teachers bully their students, way more often than you realize. And while taking our kids out of school is an option, one that I chose when my children were being bullied, taking children out of their homes is always a sad last resort. And that means we need to change how we parent. We need to be modeling how to communicate without resorting to threats, resolve conflict without yelling or physical violence, work out a compromise, and be kind to others even when they aren't being kind to us - or particularly when they aren't being kind to us. 

As parents we have built in opportunities to model these things for our children. I'm going to focus on that last one: being kind even when others aren't kind to us. 

Sometimes kids yell, "I hate you!" at their parents, sometimes kids are out of sorts, and every kid goes through a time when their hormones kick in making them less emotionally stable or more sensitive. Kids have bad days. And what do we, their parents, do when this happens? Do we snap back, "Don't you talk to me like that!" Do we ground them? Do we give them a lecture on how they need to learn to be more polite? Are we punitive, angry, and overly sensitive in return? 

All the lectures, grounding, and angry words we can muster are not going to teach our child to be nice. Being kind to our children models that behavior and creates an environment where they can learn to be kind. 

When our kids yell "I hate you!" at us, how do we respond? First we ask ourselves if we've done something to make our kid angry. If we need to apologize we should start there, and then we can empathize. It's entirely possible those words were directed at us but aren't about us, perhaps our child feels safe with us so the anger is coming out at us instead of at someone or something else. We can listen to our child talk about why they are upset, or we can give our child space if they need time to calm down, we can make them a snack, give them a hug, or ask if they'd like to take a walk. We can be nice to them! And if we do this consistently, when they are having a bad day or they lash out, they will most likely learn that when someone you love is having a hard time the best response is love and kindness. 

If you are an adult who knows a child who bullies other children find a way to support and encourage that child. Everyone wants to be loved. Bullies are often those people who haven't been shown kindness, haven't felt loved, or need to feel strong and in control because someone or some thing in their life is making them feel small and dominated. Bullies need our compassion, kindness, and empathy. It's time to declare a truce in the war on bullies and include them in our group hug. 


Resources: 

Memories of a Bullied Kid, Single Dad Laughing, Dan Pearce, has a heartfelt and helpful 3 part series about being bullied and how to respond. There are other powerful posts on the subject at site as well. 

Bullying Starts at Home, article from Huffington Post.

Helene Guldberg On Bullying, a more in depth consideration of the statistics, and why children shouldn't necessarily be expected to like and be nice to everyone. 

Can Teenagers be Smarter than Bullying Researchers? This includes a video clip from blank slate theater. 




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