by Nicholeen Peck,
Question: How do you help children respond appropriately to unkind behavior and bullying, especially at school?
Answer: Bullying is on the rise in our society. Many factors may contribute to this trend, including the increased usage of violent video games and movies, and the decrease in social refinement instruction. Whatever the root causes, incidents of bullying are increasing at an alarming rate, putting it in the front of everyone’s minds. Bullies have always existed in social settings like schools, offices and even within families, but now the bullies are getting braver and more violent, leaving their victims more traumatized than ever before. Acceptable reactions by victims have also evolved over the years. In the “old days,” boys or girls who were being bullied were expected to fight back with physical violence. Parents weren’t happy about it, but they didn’t want their children to get pushed around or feel weak or helpless. In this modern age of lawsuits, victims are often punished right alongside bullies, leaving them to feel helpless and without recourse. This approach leaves society struggling to find a real answer to the bully problem.
Relationship Skills For All
The increase in bullying is indicative of a lack of relationship skills training for children in general. These skills teach people how to keep their emotions in control, vent their frustrations appropriately, and feel empowered to change the things that are upsetting them. When people don’t have these skills, they act out in anger, violence and other harmful behaviors. Instead of using punishment to stop bullying, greater prevention will be required to address the problem. Parents and teachers can nip bullying in the bud by teaching children self-government skills as soon as possible. They skills are readily applicable for school or home learning. In my books, I discuss numerous basic social skills, three of which are absolutely necessary for combating the bullying issue. The three basic skills that must be learned to conquer bullying are:
Accepting “No” Answers and Criticism — Bullies need to know about boundaries. They need to understand that they won’t always get their way, that they will sometimes be corrected, and that while it is OK to feel frustrated by this, it is not OK to take it out on others. Children who understand boundaries and the importance of keeping themselves in control are less likely to use manipulation and intimidation as a way of controlling others.
It is also important for victims to understand boundaries. It helps them to recognize that what is being done to them in unacceptable and that they have every right to seek for help from appropriate channels.
• Accepting Consequences — Understanding cause and effect is a vital self-government skill for bullies. Teachers and parents must have an effective system of positive and negative consequences for behaviors that are consistently used. They must regularly enforce that system, so children come to recognize which behaviors end up producing undesirable effects.
Children should know that if they engage in bullying activities, there are a number of undesirable consequences. Someone could defend themselves with violence; the bully could face suspension or even expulsion for their behavior; bullying actions could lead to a series of escalating events that result in someone getting really hurt. Bullies need to know that if they act this way, you will hold them accountable for the negative consequences for their bullying actions; they need to know that just because you love them doesn’t mean you will swoop in and save them from unpleasant consequences. A person can’t learn self-government if s/he isn’t permitted to accept the consequences of their actions. I’ve noticed that many adults don’t know what it means to accept a consequence. A person is not accepting a consequence until s/he is calm, recognizes his/her faults, and are willing to do what it takes to rehabilitate themselves. If a child does not have this condition of heart, all consequences that befall them will be perceived as your being unfair. For a discussion on how to help a child get to a softer, more repentant state, see some of my other articles on the topic.
• Disagreeing Appropriately – This is the final and most useful skill to combat bullying. This skill illustrates to children and adults the process of communicating calmly to people when you disagree with them. People often bully because they have pent-up anger and frustration and don’t have the tools to communicate those feelings effectively with others. With this tool in their skill toolbox, people with bullying tendencies will have a better handle on finding an outlet for their frustrations instead of taking it out on others through bullying. If victims learn this skill, they can feel better prepared to dissolve high-stress bullying situations with calm, instead of escalating the situations by responding emotionally. When people respond calmly to emotionally-charged attacks, bullies often lose interest and will leave them alone.
When I was a little girl, I remember my father telling me, “Nicholeen, if they are teasing you, choose not to get affected. This will give you the upper hand and all the emotional control. They won’t think it is fun to tease you after trying a few times and getting nowhere. You have to be emotionally stronger than any emotional attack.” I used his wise, fatherly advice and found it worked very well. If a victim of bullying tries disagreeing appropriately and it does not make a difference, then they should be instructed to walk away and get help from an adult. We talk about bullying a lot, which often only serves to give bullies a stage for their antics. Don’t get me wrong — bullying does need to be addressed, but instead of spending so much time warning people about bullying, we should dedicate our time to giving all people the skills they need to communicate effectively, learn boundaries, accept consequences, and react calmly. Instead of instilling fear, we should instill the confidence that comes from self-government. Find Nicholeen’s Teaching Self-Government books and courses on her website, teachingselfgovernment.com.