Bullying. It’s become a common word in our new and modern world. The types and styles and methods that bullies use also seem to be getting much crueler then it ever used to be. There are now a lot of great programs, policies and procedures and laws that aim to prevent bullying, and these are all great. But…
I could be off base here, but are the current approaches working? I’m not so sure they are. I’m not saying we should stop with them, but I think there’s another layer that needs to be added here.
Remember the old days, when you told your parents about a kid that was bullying you? Let’s say that kid punched you. A common response might have been, “well, so hit him back.” Or maybe the bully and all his/her friends were teasing you and calling you names. Your parents might have coached you to walk away. If you were bullied at work in the 1950s and complained to your boss about it I’m pretty sure you would have received a blank stare. Perhaps a, “so?” Bear with me here, I’m not saying these old methods should be brought back into play. But there was something about this era that I do want us to focus on. It’s that the victim was given the control in how she coped with the bullying. This, my friends, is the layer that I think we need to put some focus on as well.
Let’s teach the victims how to be confident in how they personally deal with a bully. How should we do this? Here are some of my thoughts:
Response – A bully is a bully for several reasons. Perhaps they’re being bullied somewhere in their life and they’re coping with it by in turn becoming the bully. They’re trying to get control in their life. Sometimes it’s a result of abuse at home. Whatever the reason, at the root, bullying is often a result of the bully’s own low self-confidence. This is important to remember! It’s also an important thing to teach the victim! Yes, the victim! Why? I’m going to share a possible response from a parent whose child has just told them she’s being bullied:
Parent: Dear child, I’m sorry you’re being bullied. That’s not fair. It also makes me sad for, Bully. Did you know that Bully is probably picking on you because there’s something in her life that is making her really sad inside, and that she doesn’t know how to talk to anybody about what is making her sad?
Let’s consider what this statement accomplishes. It immediately releases the victim from blame. It lets them know that they are not being bullied because they are lacking in some way or causing it to happen. It promotes compassion. If the victim isn’t feeling at fault for the bully’s attack and their immediate thought is, “oh no, this person has something sad going on in their life” and their feeling is compassion instead of fear, anger, embarrassment or any of those negative emotions a victim may often feel, how they respond is going to be really different. And how they respond could have a direct impact on whether the bullying ends or escalates. Maybe you’re thinking I’m off my rocker, but think back on your experiences with bullying. Some response and consequence examples could include:
Victim Response: You’re not being nice. That’s not ok. I’m going to tell the teacher.
Consequence: The bully starts jeering and calling the child a tattle-tale. They possibly threaten to beat the victim up if they do tell. They gather “neutrals” from the play-ground, recruit them to their side and now the “neutrals” are calling the victim names like tattle-tale. This causes further embarrassment, frustration, anger or fear. The victim may now also be feeling isolated and surely a chink has been taken out of their self-confidence.
Victim Response: To cry or get angry.
Consequence: The bully feels in power and in control because they’ve caused the victim to lose control. They chalk this encounter up as a success and plan future attacks.
Victim Response: To “take it” by standing there, listening to the bully and not responding. Or to even just walk away.
Consequence: The bully feels unfulfilled. They didn’t lose and they didn’t win and they don’t feel like they’ve gotten what they wanted emotionally. They will try again later. For the victim, this consequence could easily start a cycle. If they don’t get any chinks taken out of their self-confidence the first time, chances are they will eventually.
Now let’s change it up. Let’s have the victim’s response come from a heart of compassion.
Victim Response: I understand you don’t like me. That’s ok, you don’t have to. I’m not sure why you’re wanting to be a bully, but if there’s something happening in your life and you ever want to talk about it, I’m here for you.
Whoa. Now, if you’re scoffing, read that again. And again if you have to. There are several things happening with this type of statement!
Consequence: The victim is speaking from a heart of compassion. This means their tone of voice is going to be positive, calm, friendly, softer and confident. This alone can contribute towards deflating the bully’s agitation. The victim is giving themselves their own affirmation; it’s ok if not everyone likes me. It enables the victim to remain confident without being cruel. Simply calling the bully a bully, being honest and real like that, sends a message to the bully that you’re not going to pretend it’s not happening. Finally, it gives the bully an “out.” It provides a way for the bully to talk to someone about what might be going on in their world. Now, let’s consider the bully’s reaction. Essentially, they’ve lost. They have not gained control nor have they caused someone to lose control. To save face they may sneer at the victim or have a different negative reaction, but they likely also feel exposed or vulnerable. It’s unlikely they will want to experience that again. And, best case scenario, perhaps they will take up the victim’s offer and actually talk to them at a later date about what is going on in their world.
Acknowledgement – Teach the victim to go over the bully’s words and analyze them. Have the victim determine if the bully’s statements carry truth or lies. What? Yes! This can be very informative for a parent, or for an adult doing it for themselves. It also opens a door to problem solving.
The bully’s taunts may include statements such as your hair is awful, you’re dirty, your clothes are ugly, you’re fat, etc. If you ask your child, “Bully said your hair is awful. Do you think your hair is awful?” This will give you some insight into what your child thinks of themselves. If your child says, “yes, I think my hair is awful.” This is a great opportunity! Ask your child what they would like their hair to look like. Reach a compromise if you have to – but then go and get that hairstyle your child does want! Boom. Immediate confidence booster. This also sends a message that your child has the ability to make changes if they don’t like something about themselves. Perhaps your child will say, “no, I actually really like my hair.” Again, a great opportunity! This gives you a chance to say, “I love your hair too and I’m glad you love it. If I love it and you love it, is it really important if Bully loves it?” Big life lesson here. Not everyone, everywhere is going to like the same things we do and that’s ok!
There’s another really important lesson to be learned here. Quite often a bully picks up on someone’s vulnerable area. If you read my “About” section you’ll recall me mentioning that I was a “short, fat little thing.” In today’s day and age so many people’s instincts are to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, even if involves glossing over truth. If I tell someone I’m fat they usually want to respond with, “you’re not fat, you’re pleasantly plump.” Umm, yeah, no, actually, I am fat. Clinically fat. Minimizing that fact in no way benefits me. If people had told me that lie as a child perhaps I would have grown up not believing I was fat, thereby not realizing I could do something about it and if people called me that as an adult I would simply feel like a victim and ask myself, “why are they calling me fat? I’m not fat. They’re just so cruel!” Instead, because I know I’m fat I have a couple choices. To do something about it if it bothers me or to not care that you think that about me! How empowering is that???
Now, of course, there’s always another side to this. Sometimes that vulnerable area is truly something the person can’t do anything about. Perhaps the bully is teasing you because you have a big nose, are shorter than the rest of the crowd, or taller. These types of traits truly are something you can’t do a lot about. Building the victim up with confidence, despite that trait is something to consider. Maybe you want to take time to review ancestry in the case of a big nose. Chances are, if it’s a physical trait, others in the family also have it. Point out family members with that trait, ask the child if they think that family member is lacking or worth less because they have that same trait. Find some benefits to the trait if you can. “Did you know that as you get older you’ll pay less for your clothes because you can buy them from the child’s section?” Let’s not expect perfection from ourselves. Ok, sure, you think you have a big nose, and you hate it, but you also have these great features or characteristics. Loving ourselves despite not loving every single part of ourselves!!
In some scenarios counselling is something to consider. If you just can’t get past the physical trait you can do nothing about. Also, there are times when the victims perceptions of themselves are off base from reality. Such as if they’re being bullied for being fat, but they have anorexia. In this case the fact is that they aren’t fat, but the fact is that the victim also truly believes they are fat. In these types of cases make counselling a priority and ensure you’re normalizing the need for counselling as opposed to it being something to be ashamed of.
Reporting – If the bullying is violent or if changing your response and acknowledgement patterns do not result in a decrease of bullying, reporting is important. At school you may be reporting to a teacher, counselor, parent or other adult. At work you would consider reporting to your supervisor and/or the police.
Personally, I don’t think reporting should be advertised loudly. I wouldn’t encourage a child to tell the bully they’re going to report them. I wouldn’t advise a co-worker to tell the bully they’re going to make a formal complaint. Why? If the situation has escalated to the point that you feel reporting is important, chances are the bully is not open to a reasonable conversation with the victim. Essentially, you’re throwing gas on a fire. Additionally, telling all your friends or co-workers, “if that old so and so doesn’t stop with their picking on me, I’m going to report him! You wait and see, I will!” hmph This, my friends, is gossip and nothing more. This is you gathering the neutrals to your side in preparation for a face off in the war of popularity. It’s not productive and it won’t put an end to the bullying. Gathering friends and reporting to them instead of the proper people also puts you at risk. Even if you’re not trying to start a war of popularity, but you’re hoping by telling friends they can help you and you can avoid reporting up the chain has a tendency to backfire. Often our friends or co-workers won’t be able to help in a productive manner, plus it publicizes your intent to report. Whether you end up reporting or not, the bully will likely catch wind of this and their tactics could escalate. Nowadays that escalation is sometimes downright dangerous. When reporting be as precise as possible. You’ll have done yourself a great favor if you’ve kept a record of specific incidents and their date/time. Let the person know who you’re reporting to what you have done in an attempt to stop the bullying. Request, if at all possible, that you’d like to be left out of their future discussion with the bully (you’ll see why I recommend this in a moment). Understand that it may be impossible to leave you out of further discussions with the bully.
If you are the person being reported to, approaching the bully from a neutral stand point could achieve great results. Remember, the bully is likely reporting to your request for a meeting with their own low self-esteem baggage. If the victim has indeed reported the bullying quietly then you can hope the bully isn’t attending your meeting already on the defensive, as they may not realize what the meeting is about. You could start by asking the bully how they are. If they have concerns or if they need help with anything. There’s a possibility they will open up, thus revealing the root cause of why they bully people. Attending to those issues can then resolve the bullying, all without you having to bring the victim into the picture. If their response is that all is well and great, you are going to have to bring the victim into it, but again, you can try to leave out the fact that they’ve been reported. Start the conversation with, “I’ve noticed you don’t seem to get along well with so and so.” This gives the bully the opportunity to share their side of the story. Be open to the fact that their side of the story may have some legitimate concerns that will need to be addressed. Depending on how this conversation goes will determine if a conversation with the bully in how to cope with the victim will end the bullying, or if perhaps some mediation needs to occur.
I wish you all the best and good luck with navigating these murky waters. Do you have a bullying story that turned out well that you’d be willing to share?