The subject of bullying has gotten a lot of airtime in recent weeks. Without getting caught on any particular story or angle, the topic is an important one.
Having also experienced bullying significantly first hand, from aged 4 into early teens, I have a personal perspective on the subject in addition to a behavioural one from my field.
There is a single principle I’d highlight. It seems that a declaration of war, anti bullying, isn’t the answer, to the pain. Even when the problem or challenge is at such a mediocre state of play.
So often when we fight against things, that push or force only serves to further fuel the very thing we’re trying to eliminate or avoid.
So what can we do instead? As parents there are a couple of ways to help your kids.
First is to help educate them both sides of the coin and effects of bullying. Education and a focus on the positive lessons we can learn and leverage to turn behaviour around. Rumour mongering, revenge or attacks in return only exacerbate the issue at hand.
There are plenty of kids out there whose parents may not be fully aware of the impact their kids may be having on others.
In the same way we might sit down and have conversation around other important life topics we might do the same here.
I know in situations like these, or similar even in other environments, I share a simple truth.
There are scientific studies suggesting that mental abuse, ostracism and bullying, triggers the same pathways in the brain as those associated with physical pain.
In other words if you’re willing to continue to inflict such hurt on others, even name calling and verbal, it’s no better than physical assault.
In many ways it’s worse. Scars from bumps and bruises heal quicker than the invisible ones that keep cutting into the mind or heart.
Once kids know this information, they can no longer not know it. So now it’s helping educate them that their actions are a clear statement of how ‘cool’ or ‘uncool’ their character really is. It’s also a strong statement of the human being they are, wish to be or will become.
It’s also perhaps helping educate them to arm them for the realities they will face later in life. After school, beyond the education systems.
To carry the same behaviours forward as they enter workplaces isn’t going to be beneficial or cool. In fact to continue such behaviours later in their lives will likely mean their bosses, more concerned about inclusivity and HR breaches these days, will see them likely being the ones ostracised and left out in the cold.
Bullying will not serve them in the environments of their futures.
As for kids being bullied there are strategies you can employ. The key is take control of the things you can. Our gut reaction may to be fight against and tackle the bullies head on. Yet we already know this doesn’t necessarily work.
So in this case its far better, easer even, to help your kids build their own resilience and inner confidence. The more of this they have, the less any external factors, including bullying, has an impact on them.
Cliff Battley, an Australian clinical psychologist, is an authority on the subject. His recent book, ‘How To Bully Proof Your Child’, is good timing for the times we live in and this topic especially. And yes it’s possible to bully proof your child.
Again, having experienced pretty significant bullying and ostracism first hand for many years, some of the same strategies deployed back then would still apply now. Perhaps they are even more relevant.
In a world driven by being perceived as popular, or cool, it’s easy to get caught into the hype and fear of missing out or feeling left on the outside.
Yet it’s far better to have a small, tight group of friends who really have your back than worry about the volume of peripheral contacts just to be seen as cool or fitting in. That was a realisation I worked with in childhood. My group of friends was super tight.
The irony is, everyones is, often we just think this big pool are our friends when even then it’s not the case.
Help your kids focus on finding and retaining their small tight group who do have their backs. Or help them find the hobbies that keep their attention, fun and focus elsewhere because there too they will find their tribe of similiar minded people. Here they may find some relief and safety in those tight numbers.
It might also be worth sharing this perspective. It’s not unusual that kids who are the unusual suspects, the unlikely candidates, the ones seen or regarded as ‘uncool’ or ‘weird’ in school, a little left out, are often the very people who go on to be seen as the coolest people around. They embrace their gifts and talents.
Mark Ruffalo, Rihanna, Eminem, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Eva Mendes and so many more all have stories to share of being bullied or left out. Whether it was for having slight frames, strange shapes, unnasuming personalities, being labelled strange or, in the case of Chris Rock, beaten up for basic prejudice.
Yet all have similar messages that everyone can come through the other side into the light. In some instances they found that path on their own. With others the path was certainly made easier by having families and a close circle of support who continually built up their confidence and resilience.
Which is again where Cliffs book is a super resource to identify and educate the ‘how’.
If you can help your kids find a way to love their own gifts then their confidence and light can shine.
Sun Tzu, the ancient master military strategist, is often quoted for his strategies translated into all aspects of life. Two are relevant here.
Sun Tzu highlighted the only time you elect to face a head on battle is where you, yourself, choose the battle ground and provided the size of your army vastly out numbers your foes.
Well, often when handling bullies, this is not the case in either instance. They are choosing when to bully and often we feel very alone. So, in Sun Tzus wisdom, to tackle this battle head on is folly.
So what can we do? Exactly some of the things highlighted here. We flank around. We focus on our world. The one we can control. Elements that are in our own hands, not the hands, words or opinions of others that would otherwise try to pull you down.
We take control of ourselves and we gradually, serendipitously due to our attention and demeanour, build up our supporting forces. There is a silent majority who, when push comes to shove, perhaps might also stand up in ones corner aswell. We’ve seen this happen.
When the people in the middle, usually observing silently or minding their own business, speak out candidly, to address bullies directly, in numbers. Not with attack, but with genuine candour to highlight how mediocre it all is. Often those same bullies might retreat. I know that was the case in instances in my own childhood.
The worst of them cowered in front of girls at school who looked at them with disdain and told them how pathetic they were. And by the way, the coolest people are the ones willing to make a stand and be candid to support the downtrodden, harangued or harassed. Even if, in fact especially when, they aren’t even people they know or are in their circle.
When you put your focus elsewhere, employ your own resilience strategies and then find yourself supported it means any future instances of bullying stand a greater chance of being on your own turf or terms.
It was also Sun Tzu who said ‘the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.’
Again, it may be counter intuitive, yet it’s often easier to win the ‘fight’ with strength, yes, but real power. Calmness, resilience and inner strength (with external support) is not the same thing as force.
It’s a reason Mother Theresa refused to march at anti war rallies. She stated to rather let her know when you were having a pro peace one instead. Then she’d turn up.
A sound philosophy for life that curiously enough was also taught to us by the legendary Sully in PIXARS ‘Monsters Inc’ when discovering that a child’s laughter is 10 times more powerful than a child’s tears.
We can help build more smiles in our kids in place of those tears or fears. Help them find their gifts, help them find, build up and articulate their own positive affirmations, resilience and appreciation of themselves.
Simultaneously help them to keep looking for the good, kindness and positive in others. Amazingly when we see authentic great traits in those around it frequently opens a different door of focus and that perhaps also help them see the same or other positive traits within themselves.
You can help your kids achieve this internal confidence, often in spite of external factors or actions going on outside. The starting point though might be to resist our initial urges and temptations, or vindication for any revenge.
The best way to beat bullying is actually without the fight.