Bullying is a hot topic these days. We all seem to agree that being bullied is a bad thing. It is a bad thing, I’ve been bullied so I don’t take it lightly. What we can not seem to agree on is what bullying is. I’ll try to shed some light on this, so we can have a healthy conversation with our kids about this important topic.
Kids need direction from us to understand what is acceptable behavior and what is not. That means if we, as adults, are confused about a topic, then kids are even more confused by it.
For example, right now it’s common to label any instance of one person being mean to another as bullying behavior. Someone who makes mean or insensitive comments and physically acts out towards others is a bully right? In order to understand that we have to have a solid understanding of the word bully and agree to a definition.
Words have meaning
The US government takes bullying seriously enough that they have a website to help explain it. I think it is does a pretty good job. https://www.stopbullying.gov/what-is-bullying/index.html
Now that we have a working understanding of the definition of the word bully, the hard part starts.
What bullying is NOT becomes the next question. Along with how to stop mean behavior before it is escalates that far.
So far we can see that bullying has to do with power between two people. So what happens when misunderstandings occur? Often hurt feelings arise and kids don’t know how to deal with that. Let’s face it, adults don’t always know how to deal with that. So what happens when a child or person, acts out because they are hurt? It can look an awful lot like bullying.
Let’s be clear though. A single instance of mean behavior is NOT bullying, but it can lead to bullying. Kids, just like adults want some control over themselves, their surrounds, and yes other people. Kids figure out pretty quickly that certain words, and certain actions get them what they want.
What they haven’t figured out is that the world does not in fact revolve around them. This is the real cause of misunderstandings. The combination between wanting control, and not understanding that things happening might have nothing to do with them personally.
So what can I do about it?
Here is what I propose. We need to teach kids how to navigate social situations, this means helping kids figure out how to make sense of their own feelings. Only then can they understand the feelings of those around them.
Let’s teach kids that the power of “WHY” doesn’t just extend to driving mom, dad, and teacher’s crazy. It has a real purpose in figuring out how to interact with each other.
“Why” can help us weed out true bullies, from misunderstandings that got out of hand.
“Why” can help us develop empathy, and connect with the people around us.
First, get in the habit of asking yourself, then your child, “why” someone might behave a certain way. Are they tired? Are they mad? You don’t know then ask them. If your efforts are met with more abuse then you have a bully on your hands. Maybe, just maybe, you will find a misunderstanding is the source of mean behavior. “Why” has just become an olive branch.
Finally, the most important step, talk with your child about these difficult topics. Find out what they think. Modelling healthy relationships, is great, its big, but it doesn’t replace conversation. Kids need to know they matter, and they feel that the most when you talk to them.
How to start
Don’t know how to bring it up without feeling awkward. Well, I wrote a book that helps with that. Check out “Bubbles and the Berry Bush” here on amazon.
I hope this was helpful. Please remember that I don’t know your situation and I don’t think that bullying is ever acceptable. I do believe that misunderstands happen and we need to learn to identify them. Kids need to know that their parents are listening and care about what is happening in their lives.