A difficult topic this week. Parents of bullied children want bullies stopped with a magic bullet. When/if the time comes that my child is the victim of a bully I’ll be that parent too. I’ll want the bully excluded, the family taken to task and my child protected at any cost. If I knew how to stop the bully, I’d be making a lot more money than I am now. All I know is that I do have a plan for my own kids and I have given it a lot of thought. For what it’s worth, here’s my theory. I don’t believe the bully has anywhere to go if he or she has nobody to bully. I believe that bullies bully because somebody picks up the other end of the tug-of-war rope. That’s not to say that the victim is in any way responsible. What I mean is that the bully gets a reaction. That may be fear, tears, a fightback, some kind of reward that sustains the behaviour. I gently and respectfully put my view here, as I am aware of the unthinkable pain that some families have experienced because of bullying, and I know that for many my words will be a hollow sound. I haven’t walked in your shoes. Here is my plan to build resilience in my kids. I have no power over who they will encounter in their lives, but I can teach.
1. Understand that you can’t change the behaviour of others.
If they understand this, they may understand that the power is in their own hands only. They either change their own behaviour, environment or reactions or everything stays the same. The truth about behaviour is that it is a reaction to the environment and the people around the person. Change the environment, change the relationship, change the triggers = change the behaviour.
2. Friends in multiple places.
If school is the only place my kids have friends, and school suddenly becomes a scary place, a whole resource becomes inaccessible to them. If they have groups of friends in other places who remind them that they are valuable, fun to be with and good to have as a friend they have multiple sources of affirmation. They get the message that they are liked by many, and have a safe haven to run to when needed.
3. Skill in different areas.
I want to build skill and a sense of self-efficiacy in my children. If they believe that they are good at <insert childhood hobby here>, I believe that they are less likely to buy into the bullshit that if the school bully says you’re a loser you must be. Yes, I also want them to have an internal sense of value (you are valuable because you are), but giving them the gift of learning to be good at something is just another way to remind them that they are multi-facted people with all sorts of value to all sorts of people in all sorts of ways.
4. Assertiveness to break rules when necessary.
If they’ve had enough, copped as much as they can take, I want them to be confident that it is OK to scream back in the face of injustice. They don’t have to mind their manners if they just want to shout loud enough to be heard and push hard enough to get action. This includes standing up to adults who bully them. As children and adults I hope they will be able to stand up to oppression and slap it right in the face if necessary.
5. A who cares attitude.
What I really hope they will learn to do is simply to say, well, who cares? I think this is impotence to bullies. So what? Just because you say it, doesn’t mean it’s true. I’ll just go over here and play with someone else. Join us when you’re ready to be civil. To be quite honest I really don’t care what you think or say about me. I’m freaking awesome.
We read Have you filled a bucket today? to our kids. This book puts the onus on us to acknowledge that we can have a positive effect on people, all people (even bullies) by simply being kind. A bully bullies because their bucket is empty. You can fill a bucket by being kind. I want my kids to learn that the bullying is not about them. If they are able to see bullying behaviour objectively, as a function of an empty bucket, then they are less likely to see it as being directly related to them being inferior in some way. It is not to excuse bullying behaviour, it is to humanise the bully and enable my child to distance himself from the bullying. As much as I hate the behaviour, I can’t forget that there is a child in there somewhere.
7. Remembering that lots of people love you.
In my last post I wrote that we need a village. Having an extended group of family and/or friends who show love to your children is so valuable. It is another way to build resilience by reminding them that they are so valuable that people love them even if they aren’t obliged to. Their family is their main soft place to fall. But if they are having a tough time and need to do a fair bit of falling, it’s nice to know they can fall all over town and land easy.