More thoughts on bullying

Last year, our family had an experience that pushed us to do some learning about bullying. At that time, one of our kids experienced bullying behavior, and we wanted to know what bullying looks like, how to help our kids identify bullying behavior, and how to cope should they encounter this behavior.

That was a difficult time for my child and myself. She felt sad, confused, and generally pushed around. I felt protective of her. I worked very hard to try to come to a more compassionate view of the other child, and the best I could do was to say the relationship was just not a good fit. Truthfully, the easiest thing was to view the other child as mean or clearly in the wrong.

More recently, we have been given the opportunity to learn about bullying from the other side: our child is behaving like a bully. That is also really hard and really sad. I am having to ask myself whether I went wrong somewhere as a parent and how this could have happened. I am having to work through a lot of difficult feelings in order to think clearly and figure out how to work through this.

As I think about the relationship dynamic in both of these situations, it is very similar. The bullying child is a louder, more opinionated, more assertive person who is more skilled at leadership. The bullied child is quieter, more easy-going, very nice, sensitive, and likely to withdraw when being pushed around. None of this is really problematic until these two personalities are brought together and there is some sort of stress that escalates their behaviors. The result is a situation where one person gets hurt, and then both children must learn some new skills. The bullying child must learn: to use their leadership skills for constructive and non-aggressive purposes, to deal with difficult feelings inside themselves instead of inflicting them on others, how to ask for help outside the group dynamic to avoid gossip and taking sides. The bullied child must learn: how to recognize unhealthy relationship dynamics, how to set healthy boundaries in relationships, how to be assertive, how to ask for help when needed.

It occurs to me that people who are inclined toward bullying behavior have several strengths that can help them be successful in life. Many are natural leaders who understand relationships, know how to organize a group and get people to work toward a common goal. They are charismatic, persuasive, and persistent. They are passionate and opinionated. They know how to get people to listen to them and do what they want. This realization helps me move toward the more compassionate, balanced view I was hoping to achieve.

Although I am very different from my absolute FORCE of a child, I value her strengths and want to see her use them in a way that does not cause harm to others. I even love that every feeling she has is out there, when all of my big feelings take me deep inside myself. She is a wonder and a joy to me. She isn’t mean, but the FORCE can look mean when things are not right with her world. These are the steps I am taking to help her learn from this experience:

  • I have been asking questions and listening carefully in order to understand the situation, the group dynamic, and my child’s feelings around it.
  • I have been very clear and specific about what behaviors are unacceptable.
  • In addition to telling her what not to do, I am being specific about what she can do instead.
  • I have been asking myself the question: What skills were lacking in this situation?.
  • New skills are being practiced daily at home to develop new habits.
  • In addition to doing everything I can to help my child learn new skills as quickly as possible, I am practicing patience and loving kindness, because I know it is difficult to change.

Further resources:

These videos are a wonderful way to communicate with children about the different kinds of bullying and the different roles people play in bullying. They also foster discussions about empathy and help children consider different choices.

I found some good books: a book of reading and activities for character building, and a book of guided meditations for learning to work with difficult feelings.

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