Handling Problems with Friends and Bullies

Bully-Proofing from the Inside Out (adapted from an article by Sally Ogden)

"The true journey of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." Unknown.”

Changing the external world has its limitations.  Educators would like to create a "perfect world" and prohibit all cruel acts or apprehend all perpetrators.  This is noble but unrealistic.  Unless we change how kids use their minds, it's unlikely that these bully-proofing efforts will be successful.  We can teach students how to change their responses and reactions to difficult situations.  We can teach them that they have the power to choose their perspective in any situation.  They can learn to translate what others say so that it doesn't wound them.  They can be taught that it's possible to choose not to be angry, hurt, or vindictive.  We can help them develop a shield through which no cruel barbs can pass, and they can take this shield with them wherever they go! This could bully-proof them for life!

How?  Remind kids that bullies and taunters do unkind things to others when the bully is feeling insecure and confused.  Kids already know this on some level.  The kids can translate, "Hey, he's not doing too well right now! Wonder what's up with him?" It isn't important to know the root cause of the other guy's pain.  Teach the kids to be compassionate.  Feel sad for the bully. This keeps the kids separated and shielded from what is said. 

Once the kids have adjusted their perspective, then a variety of effective responses are available.  They might decide to respond with a neutral response such as, "Thanks for letting me know." Or, "I'll remember that." Or, they might choose the very healthy response of agreeing with the putdown, as in, "Oh, I know, I look terrible today.  You should have seen me yesterday!”  "No thanks, I just had a banana!"   My favorite, "Thanks for sharing!" (km) The kids end up disabling the bully and empowering themselves.  There is a whole different look on an empowered kid's face than a victim's look!

Why are kids so cruel to each other? The predicament of wanting to join in the play but being left out is a universal phenomenon and grows to its most intense during the elementary years.  Somehow Mother Nature has created a stage where the "pecking order" emerges naturally despite all of our best intentions to teach kindness, empathy and caring for others.  It is absolutely a truth that these experiences can be very painful for the kids and the parents who so much want to protect their children from harm.  The interesting thing is that most kids see themselves at the bottom of this pecking order!  For some children, the only chance they see of gaining ground in this social hierarchy is to turn on others, to tease or to exclude. Most of the time the kids are excluded for insignificant things as if the formation of the group is more important than the reason for the kids being together in the first place, then, just when the child could feel included the "rules" change and the process begins again. The good news is that it is a phase.  The teens are much more accepting of differences and our kids are more self-assured.  Research supports what common sense tells us:  that children who feel confident in themselves, and who see behavior modeled that is cooperative, helpful and generous, are most likely to respect other children.  Those who experience more aggressive adult models may have difficulty building respectful relationships.  Compassion pays off in the long run!  (Adapted from When Will The Children Play? by Angela Rossmanith)

When your child experiences the struggles of conflict and friends consider asking only processing-type questions and let him/her figure out a plan of action.  You'll probably get a chance to do this more than once during this "phase!"

What’s the best way for parents to react to a bully at school?  


According to the March 2002 survey of American adults commissioned by the Love and Logic Institute, Inc.

2%      Do nothing, these things happen and will pass.

18%    Discuss the situation with the bully’s parents.

 29%    Give the child tips for dealing with bullies.

48%    Discuss the situation with the teacher.

What does Jim Fay (Teaseproof Your Kids, www.loveandlogic.com ) say?  “Parents who swoop in to save their kids from bullies and other problems are doing their children a disservice by not preparing them for the real world.  There will always be bullies, whether it’s another kid at school or a boss at work.”