This post won’t be what you thought. It is about bullying. But it’s more so about how the term “bullying” has gotten out of hand. And how that is doing our kids a disservice.
The term “bullying” has become such a hot button. And quite honestly it should be in terms of having zero tolerance for such behavior. This is one place where I think social media has helped us as parents and educators. We can spread the word and educate with more accessibility.
What is Bullying?
But, what really is bullying? Is it any conflict between kids? And when should parents and educators step in?
According to stopbullying.gov, bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.
Gingerbread Bullies by Carlye Pina
Bullying Should Never be Tolerated
This type of behavior is unacceptable and should never be tolerated. I would be heartbroken if my kid was the bullied or the bully. Quite frankly I’m thankful that there are now so many resources. But, where do we draw the line between conflict amongst and bullying? And more importantly, how do we teach our kids to know the difference?
Bullying vs. Conflict
What I’m going to talk about next is not bullying, but conflict. Again, bullying should not be tolerated and I think we as a country, while we could always improve, are doing great things in terms of prevention. When I was a kid, and the generations before, we just didn’t know enough. Simply because the world was much bigger then.
So, conflict amongst kids. How do we teach our kids when to handle it on their own and when to seek help? And how do we teach them, when they decide to handle it on their own, how to do that?
Last year we moved, which meant my kids had to change schools halfway through the academic year. Overall they did very well with their transition. My oldest daughter however had some trouble with a few kids in her class.
It started with some notes from a girl. The girl told her to stay away from her friends. Next, it was a boy calling my daughter names. From there these types of incidents would happen occasionally. It wasn’t daily and at no point did my daughter want to stay home from school.
Working Through Conflict
We would continuously have conversations about it. I would always ask her, “do you want me to handle this and call your teacher or would you like to handle it?” I explained that if she handled this herself, she would feel much better about it and would be more likely to resolve the problem. She would always ask to handle it herself, but I’d make her promise to tell me anytime anything happened. I was clear with her that because she was handling it herself did not mean she had to handle it alone.
It took a few weeks but she eventually resolved it on her own. The girl who was writing mean notes became one of her close friends. My daughter, through a lot of conversations with me and my husband, realized the girl was just nervous that she would lose friends as a result of my daughter’s arrival. So, my daughter eventually said to this girl, “can we all be friends?” And it worked I think because we were right, the girl just felt threatened.
The boy who was calling her names eventually stopped as well. My daughter and I role-played a lot. I’m talking so much that I wanted to die a little. Playing a 9-year-old boy is exhausting. But it worked. She eventually told him that it’s too bad he can’t come up with anything better. After that he stopped. She took away his power.
How I Really Felt
I am not going to say that at any point throughout this process was I calm or dismissive. Because that’s not true. I wanted to slap a couple of 9-year old kids. I obviously didn’t. But, I really wanted to. I am also not going to pretend that every situation can be resolved with such ease, I get that. What I do believe, however, is that I think we have an opportunity as parents to teach our kids to handle conflict. And I think we have a responsibility not to jump to the conclusion that every conflict is bullying.
Some situations do become bullying. Some don’t. And the truth is there is a risk in taking the time to figure it out. By not calling the school right away, I ran the risk of this becoming a bullying situation. But, by monitoring it and talking to my daughter I taught her something incredibly important. She learned how to handle conflict and in doing so her confidence in herself increased.
What We Learned
Another really important thing happened. She learned a lot about herself and had to accept a hard truth. She was perceived by other kids as a tattle-tale. In one of our many conversations, it occurred to me that she was telling the teacher about everything every kid did. Which is why this boy was calling her names. I’m not saying that being called names is warranted. But, I also don’t believe my daughter needed to tell on the boy for not holding the door open.
At no point did my daughter or I label this bullying. I didn’t approach it that way. Which is not to say I didn’t have a very close watch over the situation. But by not immediately jumping to the conclusion that she was being bullied I allowed her to learn a big lesson about handling conflict. Sometimes kids, people, are just jerks. And that tattling isn’t received well by her peers.
She now knows that she should only be going to a teacher if someone is hurt, about to be hurt or threatening to hurt someone. And she also knows that when a kid is a jerk she can handle it. She believes in herself and she knows that I will be her sounding board. She actually calls me her “journal”.
What We Can Do as Parents
As parents, we want the world for our kids. And hell hath no fury like a woman whose family has been messed with. But I’m not going to be everywhere with
my daughter all the time. I don’t want her to be just a good kid, I want her to become a good adult. Capable of anything. To be that she needs to know how to deal with conflict.
The other day a girl on my soccer team said to the group, “At school, there is this bully….” I immediately stopped her. When I asked what made the kid a bully she said he was making fun of another kid. My response was this, “Well that was probably hard for both kids. It seems like that kid is just kind of a punk. Not a bully.” Her mind was a bit blown. Then she said, “yea he is kind of a punk.”
Bullying is a serious issue. It should not be tolerated. But as parents, we have a responsibility to teach our kids the difference between bullying and conflict. When we fail to teach them that difference we do them a disservice. We are taking away their opportunity to learn how to handle conflict, productively, on their own. And I think that if we can harness this opportunity to teach that difference, then we will have more power to prevent bullying.