By: Joe Newman
The continued increase in the frequency and intensity of bullying on our neighborhoods and public schools is a result of several things. First, there has been a cultural shift in today’s children toward much stronger feelings of omnipotence (a strong recognition of self and a weak recognition of others) than in children of the past. One of the consequences of this is that children feel a stronger pull toward satisfying their own needs and feelings than respecting the needs and feelings of others. Combine this with the lower capacity for intimacy (due to the lack of healthy mutual recognition) and a child’s already strong desire for social status and power, and the result is more children who are willing to be cruel in order to impress and belong to a group.
The third problem is our assumption that bullies act in ways that are inappropriate and cruel because they lack an intellectual understanding about right and wrong. So we respond with conversation. (When school bullying gets out of hand therapists are sent in to talk with children about the effects of bullying and why it is wrong.) Bullies don’t lack a cognitive understanding of why their actions are wrong. The truth is, they are acting this way because on some level it gets them the social power they crave. If we respond to bullying with swift, strong consequences that reduce their social power, instead of more talk, then bullying will stop. Moralizing to them only makes the gap between you wider and feeds the “cool factor” of their social power with their friends.
In order to stop bullying it is necessary to respond with action consequences that remove the incentive as soon as the first signs of bullying appear. When this is done swiftly and consistently, then a culture of bullying won’t have a chance to take root and grow, never mind grow to the levels of cruelty we’ve recently seen at our schools.
The short version: respond to bullying immediately with more action and less talk.
When a parent sees their child suffering because of the cruelty of other children there is a very natural urge to rush in and make it stop. Unfortunately, by the time children reach grade school this approach can often backfire, causing children to lose important social power and denying them the opportunity to develop the skills and experience to negotiate these difficult social waters themselves.
Specific things you can encourage your child to do when they are bullied include:
- Teach your child how to: Look the bully in the eye. Stand tall and stay calm in a difficult situation. Walk away.
- Teach your child when and how to ask for help.
- Encourage your child to make friends with other children.
- Support activities that interest your child (team sports, music groups, theater and social clubs).
The passage below from my book Raising Lions addresses the mindset at the core of this switch from protector to coach.
“When guiding a child through a period of frustration or difficulty, there are moments when the child will not know what to do or how to solve their problem. This is a void, an empty space, that the adult must resist filling. These moments require waiting and faith. Waiting for the child to fill this void and faith that the child can and will survive this frustrating and confusing moment. To fill this void for the child, to solve the problem that the child might have solved given time and faith, is to rob them of the creative moment in which they fill this void themselves and discover their real power. Your faith and calm during these moments when your child is facing this void become the model for the calm your child will internalize when facing difficulties, frustrations, and his own imperfection in the future.”
[Photo Credit: Litandmore]