Sunday, September 26, 2010

The "B" word....

** I offer you my sincerest apologies for the length of this post.  The topic of bullying came up for me this morning and I felt it was worth posting my thoughts, with the new school year well under way our children are once again experiencing bullying on the playground.  My perception of this issue is my own and I do not expect anyone else to agree with me.  This is a touchy subject with parents all over the world and I respect everyone's ideals and beliefs about it. **

I'm sure we've all had an occasion where we've dealt with a bully in our lives, and watching our children go through it can be excruciating and we often don't know how to approach the issue.

As a parent of children who have experienced bullying in the school, I think it's important to first keep an open mind.  When your child comes through the door after a day at school and unloads all the stuff that made him uncomfortable about the day, take the time to ask some important questions to try and sift through what may be your child's insecurities and not a bullying issue at all.

My middle son used to come home and say to me "everybody at school hates me!"  I would then ask him "who is everybody?"  After some investigation, I would find that there was one child specifically who made it his duty to create conflict everyday with him, would work towards getting other kids to join in the conflict and make him feel like everyone disliked him.  To a child who just wants acceptance from other children, it is easy to get caught up in the feeling that "everybody hates me".  We do it as adults as well.  It's our ego's way of filling us with more fear and insecurity about ourselves.

I didn't "poo poo" his statement about everyone hating him, I questioned it.  I questioned why he felt the way he did.  I questioned what happened to bring about the supposed hate he was feeling.  I question everything until I got to the heart of the matter, which usually always turns out to be an insecurity that my son is nurturing in the moment.

I also let my children know from the beginning that I am interested in only the truth of the situation.  That I am not interested in embellishments or twists in wording.  Just the simple truth and the facts so that I can guide them to a solution that will be most effective.  When you are engaged in this kind of conversation with your child you can usually pick up on the subtle queues they are giving to indicate they are not being completely honest either in what their role was in the situation or the role of others.

My boys also know that I am not the kind of parent that will run to the first school official or parent to unleash a wrath of anger and assumptions (however tempting that sometimes is).  I work to give them the tools they need to deal with the situation themselves (we have yet to have a circumstance where parental intervention is required, they have been quite capable of handling it themselves with support from myself and my husband.  If it were to escalate I would certainly step in, of course with documentation of what has transpired in the past).

By taking these steps I am providing my children with the necessary skills to dig deeper into a situation to find a solution without over reacting to it.  I am allowing them to become more aware and to learn from their peer group.  I am also allowing them to take responsibility for their relationships, something they will definitely need to know how to do in the future.

What I find has happened over the years is that the term "bullying" has been used to describe everything from physical threats to emotional abuse to a simple disagreement between children.

So what is bullying really?  Bullying Canada describes bullying as "someone who hurts or scares another person on purpose and the person being bullied has a hard time defending themselves".  I will add that it is usually directed at a someone the bully feels is weaker than they are and is a consistent ongoing behaviour with the bully, it is not a random act.  A true bullying situation demoralizes and alienates the person being bullied and has lasting emotional effects on the "victim".

Not every situation that your child encounters that makes him uncomfortable is a bullying situation. 

Bullies have an agenda.  It is always in their best interest to manipulate another person, beit another child or a even their own parent. 

I don't agree that bullying build character and that children should just "suck it up" and I never inform my boys to do this.

What I have learned over the years is that despite well intentioned educators, the children who are being bullied are largely ignored when they submit a complaint about another child.  A reason for this is that the bully is often a repeat offender and the parents are unresponsive to phone calls home and disciplinary action that needs to be taken and so the bully is given more power and is able to continue with his destructive behaviour.  This is when I decided to coach my children and to give them a safe place to talk about their feelings and dig deeper into what can be done to alleviate the problem.

For example, my own children have made a decision to no longer associate with a boy in the neighbourhood because this boy decided that one day he would carry a utility knife "for protection from people who are mean to him".  They decided to tell this boy that they would no longer be riding their bikes to school with him or spending time with him after school because they felt uncomfortable around him.

This was not the first time my boys had been in an uncomfortable position with this boy, and had on countless occasions witnessed him manipulating, criticizing and demeaning another neighbourhood boy.

This boy went home to his mother and told his mother that my sons were being mean to him and that they were bullying him.  We've known this family for years and have known about this boys tendencies for a while now.  The mother confronted my sons without my knowledge or permission while they were playing with friends.

This mother is not doing her son any favours.  She is actually enabling her son in his sociopathic behaviour.

It's important as parents to recognize our children's tendencies.  It is important to learn more about how they interact with other children, pay attention to conversations they have, how they respond to others and how they deal with conflict.

It can be as easy as listening at the window when your children are outside playing with friends.

By doing just this I learned that my youngest son likes things his way, he likes to have everyone playing a part when they play.  Other children will often go off and play at something else when he gets a little too obsessive about it and he ends up playing on his own.  Eventually he will learn how to play in a more balanced way because he will experience this over and over again, this is how children learn to be social.  If I stepped in and cleared things up or instructed the other children to play his way, I would be enabling his behaviour and he would never learn to socialize "properly" and he wouldn't be a someone anyone would want to associate with.

If this particular mother were to better understand her son, she could effectively help him to realize why he feels the need to intimidate and demoralize other children.  The other children he is involved with are trying to teach him proper socialization and she is standing in the way of this natural process and growth.

Helping our children through these times is not easy, we have to be diligent with every opportunity and we have to be respectful of everyone involved.

This is not an easy thing to do.  It is not easy to let go and let our children learn through their peer group.  It is not easy to take a good hard look at our beloved child and see that they are struggling and need help.

However, we MUST confidently step into what is not easy to effect positive change in our children's world.

1 comment:

  1. That was a long blog, but I enjoyed every word of it... It gave me a lot of insight... Keep it up Jen :) xo


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