The “Him, Bullied, NEVER” blog is a powerful article about a universal and highly emotional situation that every parent hopes they will not have to help their child cope with. Way to go to this courageous and compassionate mom for using her own family’s story to help others!
Bullying is a relational issue with many aspects at play. It is a very real, very traumatic experience, something that we wish we could protect our children from. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. My husband was bullied at school, and his response 30 years later is still emotional and visceral. Imagine how real it is for your child going through these experiences at such a young age?
The strategies for coping with bullying suggested in the “Him, Bullied, NEVER” blog are a great place to start and can all be summed up in one sentence: Help your child to develop the social and emotional skills necessary to cope with anything that comes their way.
Children can be unkind and their actions hurtful, but we need to understand that their ‘misbehaviour’ is part of their emotional development. I recommend the book “Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline” for an explanation of why traditionally viewed ‘bad’ behaviour provides opportunities to teach missing skills.
However, we must differentiate between children being children and true bullying behaviour. More importantly, we need to give our children the skills to tell the difference.
Bullying is an intentional, repeated aggression within an imbalance of power. A self-regulated child will be able to know when someone has acted out during the course of everyday social interaction and respond accordingly – or understand that they are actually being bullied. They will be able to bring this information home to you and ask for your help: either with processing the ‘everyday’ conflict or to help protect them from actual bullying.
Ultimately you are the caregiver and it’s your responsibility to protect your child and to constructively, bravely engage with the school. This is always something that must be directed to the school, parents taking on other parents is never advisable.
It is the responsibility of school leadership to create a culture wherein all children feel safe and connected, and where teachers are equipped with the skills to respond to conflict. Punishing bullying behaviour with punitive actions is not helpful. All children need to be taught to regulate and connect.
There are frequently two victims in any bullying activity: the bullied child and the bully themselves. It is the school’s responsibility make sure that both sides of the conflict are protected and supported. Bullies are often expressing themselves in the only way they know how and may themselves be victims of family circumstances or parenting styles that have conditioned them to behave the way they do.
Empathy is the highest executive skill. The process of teaching self-regulation on both sides of the bullying divide will develop empathy in the children involved and needs to be addressed on a curriculum level. Parents and school leaders must encourage empathy through social emotional learning practices and role modelling.
Social Emotional learning will give your child the toolkit to cope with conflict and upset.
This is a huge topic, and it’s not easy to address the problem in a few hundred words. A quick fix leaves us back at ‘crime and punishment’ when what we really need to do is change our children’s emotional response to conflict. This may not stop the bullying in the short term, but what it will do is give your child a toolkit to deal with the trauma in a way that allows them to bring it home to you and share it with you so that you can engage with school leadership and management.
As a Conscious Discipline ® Certified Instructor, I focus on the social emotional learning that will help children manage the big feelings that such a negative experience will generate. These feelings: fear, helplessness, anger, need to be regulated – not just by the child, but by the adults involved too. This is where helping your child to regulate and understand their emotion can help them manage the fallout of a traumatic experience. It won’t take it away, but it will help them own the emotion and put it into context. It’s crucial that the adults are able to regulate themselves, as you can’t teach skills you don’t have. Conscious Discipline focuses on Adult first, Child second.
There is a lot of material out there if you want to read into this more deeply. My friend and colleague, Jo Hamilton has written a brilliant book:
- ‘The Ultimate Assertiveness Toolbox for Kids’ which provides children (and adults) with twenty different tools to help them to be assertive – twenty different things you can say or do to help you stand up for yourself! Check it out: https://jo-hamilton.com
- From a social emotional learning perspective, this is an excellent resource from Conscious Discipline: https://consciousdiscipline.com/videos/how-to-make-a-bully-from-scratch/
If you would like to get hold of me directly to discuss this further, or to discuss a workshop for your family or school, please contact me on 0828292112
Contributed by Mandy Herold Headmistress at a leading independent school in Johannesburg. She is Mum to two beautiful children, Robyn (11) and Ryan (13) and a proud wife to Garreth.
Cell: 082 829 2112