Bully vs. Wimp – Everybody Loses
It is easy to see every form of meanness and cruelty as bullying. Scholarly definitions of bullying might sound pedantic but using ‘bullying’ as an umbrella term is not helpful. The language and labels of bullying presumes a perpetrator and a victim. This overlooks the complexity of most conflicts and zero tolerance policies focus on punishment of the perpetrator. Getting more specific about the nature of the unkind behaviour offers a better idea about how to resolve the conflict.
Swedish psychologist Dan Olweus suggests there are 3 criteria central to bullying:
- Imbalance of power (eg age difference, size difference)
This means that single acts of aggression, one-off fights and reciprocal acts of relational aggression (eg when two former friends fall-out and spread rumours about each other as a result), whilst extremely hurtful, are not bullying.
All need to be dealt with, but repeating patterns of aggression are especially serious.
What to do if your child is being bullied…
Key messages for parents in brief:
- Keep Calm
- Don’t escalate the problem
- Adopt a ‘we can deal with this’ attitude
- Reassure your child that they are not to blame
- Praise their bravery for speaking up
- Emphasise the importance of finding a solution not retaliation
- Work with your child’s school to make a plan
(don’t intervene personally with the bully or their parents)
Key messages for kids in brief:
- Use quick assertive responses to the bully, such as
‘STOP THAT!’, ‘BACK OFF!’, ‘THAT’S NOT OK!’, ‘GO AWAY!’
It’s important these are brief and don’t lead to a conversation
‘Just say it & walk away’
- Find somewhere else to play, preferably with other children.
- Confide in a trusted adult.
- Try not to give the bully any satisfaction – they are ‘fishing’ for a reaction and want you to bite. If you don’t bite, they’ll eventually get bored and go elsewhere.
The key to longer-term bully prevention rests more with our children’s development of social intelligence and relationship skills. When equipped with these, all children have the opportunity to flourish amongst their peers. Below are some tips for parents and happy kids.
Guidelines for Parents to Encourage Social Intelligence & Relationship Skills
(Adapted from No Bully organisation www.nobully.com)
1) Encourage socialising and friendships.
Ask your children about their friends & who they play with at break times. If you are worried they are isolated raise your concerns with your child’s teacher/class tutor.
2) Promote an active social life.
Get involved with the school, make friends with other parents and arrange frequent play dates with a range of different children. For older tweens and teens it’s likely they will plan their own meet-ups, but do encourage them to socialise and try to be present now and again, so that you can get to know your children’s friends and observe interactions.
3) Have frequent conversations throughout childhood about differences.
Nurture a spirit of respect and tolerance of differences. Elicit and encourage empathy by discussing how it might feel to be on the receiving end of false or hurtful words & images, rumours or deliberate exclusion (in person or ‘online’)
4) Encourage a peaceful respectful environment at home
Don’t allow your own children to repeatedly tease or intimidate each other at home. Modelling intervention at home will encourage your children to speak up in other environments.
5) Be mindful about how you talk about others in front of your children.
If you gossip or put others down, you are teaching your children it’s OK to do the same
6) Encourage you child to come up with a list of relationship standards.
Discuss what makes a great friend and how good friendships make us feel. Trust your gut. If it feels bad it’s likely to be unhealthy.
7) Talk about what happens when friendships go wrong.
Talking about difficult emotions such as anger, jealousy, sadness and confusion normalises them. Acknowledge how understandable these emotions are and discuss how you might handle them without seeking revenge or retaliation.
8) Limit your child’s exposure to violence in any media
Maintain an awareness of their online interests and activities (more on this later)
9) Don’t assume your child will tell you if they are being harassed, teased or bullied.
Be aware of signs of distress: physiological (headaches & stomach aches); emotional (irritability, low mood); or behavioural (social withdrawal, school refusal or any other sudden change in behaviour).
10) Discuss use of social networking sites: online interaction & instant messaging.
Standard guidelines suggest social media is for 13 years plus but this is not necessarily adhered to. Many children have phones and tablets long before the age of 13, and with this comes access to apps, games and instant messaging… and a whole new world of ‘virtual’ social interaction. For more helpful tips on discussing cyber activity with your kids, read, Cyber Safety for Families – 5 Talking Points to Create Informed Teens.
11) Try to adopt a ‘coaching’ approach to parenting.
Brainstorm choices rather than going straight for the “fix”. This approach empowers your child to deal with life’s challenges. Coaches focus on finding solutions.
“A Solution Coaching parent is able to remain centred while using ‘both their hands’ to coach their child. The left hand is the receptive hand of empathy that reaches out from the heart. It takes the time to notice how your child is feeling and suggest to them (tentatively) that you ‘get it’. E.g. “I could imagine that you’re feeling… Is that what is going on for you?” The right hand encourages action. It names the problem, sets the limits and facilitates solutions. A Solution Coaching Parent … starts with the left hand and only moves to the right after establishing a connection with their child. Then she or he goes back and forth between the two hands.”
Nicolas Carlisle, CEO of No Bully organisation
Bullys are no longer just about sticks and stones. You should also talk to your child about Cyber safety and how their relationships transform online. Check out this article: Cyber Safety for Families – 5 Talking Points to Create Informed Teens
About the Author: Lucy Graham is a Positive Psychology Practitioner, Coach and Counsellor at Mindquest Group in Hong Kong. She comes from a strengths-based approach and applies the science of Positive Psychology, coupled with other evidence-based techniques to her work in one-to-one coaching or counselling settings and groups that she delivers to empower youth to unlock their potential to flourish.