If you have ever been the child left standing alone on the playground, or intentionally passed over when the latest note was circulated around the classroom or ostracized through a force field of whispers and giggles by a core group of popular students you know the stress, anguish and sadness that can wash over your day. You arrive at school with a knot in your stomach and dread in your heart. What should be the start of another school day filled with learning, fueled by curiosity and delight, is a day riddled with anxiety and fear, fear of when the next social humiliation and emotional assault will strip you naked of all your defenses, leaving you feeling cold and self conscious, alone and dumbfounded as to why. I know all about it, because I was that child for portions of my 4th and 5th grade school years. I won't reveal the culprits' names out right, but if you decipher my coded clues the revelation is yours. (Like me the pair shops for shoes in the same department I do.)
Bullying resides squarely in the underbelly of humanity. It's a despicable, small man or woman's act and it is apparently on the rise. It is troubling always, but it is most troubling when malicious marginalization of groups or individuals is among children. Are children born bullies? I have heard it's a naturally occurring phenomenon. Maybe it's something like survival of the fittest. Seriously? Aren't we supposed to be somewhat civilized at this point? Like seeing toddlers with deep tans and a face full of makeup, strutting their stuff on stage like Vegas showgirls for baby pageants or seeing boys lifting weights at the age of 6, it seems to me, children bullying other children is a gruesome manifestation of adult business. Isn't bullying really rooted in fear and a sense of unworthiness? The fear may be that there isn't enough to go around, not enough social room for everyone to occupy space, not enough money for everyone to live comfortably, not enough glory for everyone to be great, not enough. Because, if there was a fundamental belief that there was enough, there would be no need to make someone else feel less than.
Wherever it comes from, it's one thing for it to happen to you, but when you become a parent and your children are bullied it becomes an all-new exercise in restraint and a call to action. Your baby is now in the world and ideally you want your child to have a full and happy social experience, to be accepted and allowed to and encouraged to contribute to their peer group. Then reality steps in and some misguided aggressor comes along and changes the game. What to do?
As a parent there are a multitude of feelings you are confronted with when a bully makes their way into your family dynamic, ushering in a call for constructive, instructive and destructive responses. What you want to do to the bully?
* Fire off a guided missile targeted at this child's back, I mean backpack. * Send in peer group infiltrates to annihilate them with retaliatory humiliation. * Dress them in dummy clothes and mark their foreheads with a bold, black ash "B" for all to be aware of their bullying nature so they can be banished or quarantined so as not to infect the group with their divisiveness anymore. * And shoot that kid a glare across the parking lot that should freeze their underpants every chance you get.
That wouldn't be very nice I though. You decide which camp those responses fit in.
Then there's bringing in the teacher, to ask for their extra vigilance and attention to the accused.
While we can't always stop the assailant, we can teach our children more about who they are and how they can be in this ugly case.
We can establish with our children:
1. They did not cause the bullying 2. They will not become aggressors 3. They are worthy of great friendships 4. They are strong 5. They have our full support and permission to stand up to the bully and here's how 6. This episode will not last forever even though it feels like it will 7. Finally, they should understand that children who bully are generally not happy children for some pretty unhappy reasons
Like most other stressful episodes in our children's lives, inherent in them are teachable aspects that can include lessons that will stay with them throughout their lives. For me, after the lead bully put an emotional whipping on me for months and I came home with headaches and strife and more half told stories of daunting days, that I shared with my grandmother, she finally, folded down her newspaper one day, looked over the top of it, through her glasses and beyond her usual gentle persona, balled up her fist, hoisted it in the air and told me, the next time, Ms. So and So did such and such, I was to HANDLE IT! Wow, that was all the permission I needed. I walked taller and more confidently the next day. Someone heard me, was on my side and had my back. And I did handle it and Ms. So and So and I became fast friends because of it and all her flunkies, who were too weak to stand on their own, opened up to me as well. I am not advocating violence, I am encouraging proactive demonstrations of strength.
So what's lost in these children who become bullies? Why do they choose to dominate others? I can't say for sure, but I suspect there are key voids in their lives and I hold on to the idea that the right intervention and guidance can show them how critical it is to empathize with others. I also suspect that they are modeling behavior they have seen somewhere before. That's ashame, but true. That brings us back to our roles as parents, teachers, aunties, uncles, grandparents and role models. If we want to do away with bullies we have to step in and show children the power of compassion, inclusion and kindness and sometimes it may have to be YOUR child leading that bully into a new way of understanding and viewing himself and the world, the understanding of love and forgiveness.
That brings me to another thing.... we'll talk about that next time.
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