When I was in second grade, I was the new kid in school. I went to a smaller school, so it wasn’t completely overwhelming, but I didn’t know anyone. Luckily, most of the kids in my class were nice and I was able to navigate my way to finding groups to play with during recess and lunch. I’m not sure how it started exactly, but at some point, my path started to cross with a fourth grader. Our lunch periods could have overlapped slightly, or we could have been walking by each other in line, but however it happened, she found me and started teasing me. It was typical kids’ stuff, most likely making fun of my clothes or something similar and just being the new kid in general. It was never physical, all I remember is she was mean to me and I did my best to stay away from her. I don’t think I ever told my parents or a teacher, even though her actions probably qualified as low-level bullying. Eventually she lost interest in me and found someone new to pick on, but as a result I avoided her for years. In high school, we ended up in a large group of girls and I asked her, “Why were you so mean to me?” She said “I don’t know, but I’m sorry. I was really mean to you have no idea why.” We had a good laugh about it and talked about how cruel kids could be for no reason.
Bullying is a hot topic these days. From the moment our kids are put in a classroom environment, they are taught the difference between being a good friend and being a bully. Ask any young child around the age of 4 or 5 and they can tell you exactly what a bully is. I think it’s great we’ve prepared our children to stand up for themselves and discern what behavior is acceptable and not acceptable. I have seen it swing a little bit to the extreme though, where every negative word said is considered bullying. Let’s face it, kids say mean, dumb things. Many times, they say these things just to get a reaction or they are testing the boundaries of social interaction. Our kids are taught that bullies say mean things and it’s put parents in a tough spot. Kids come home describing an event at school where “Jack was being a bully” but when the parent hears the full story, they think, that’s just kids being kids. As a parent you have to be careful. You can’t contradict the definition of bullying because if it escalates, it must be treated as a serious situation. But at the same time, we want to teach our kids to have thicker skin and move on from insensitive comments.
There is one situation where I was able to use the definition of a bully to help me in a situation with my son. For the last couple years, I’ve been trying to teach my kids to listen to the little voice in their head. This is a very difficult concept to teach a child because it is so abstract, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying. One night in particular, my son was having a difficult time and had resigned himself to the fact he “couldn’t do it”. No matter what we tried, his answer back to me was “I can’t”. At that moment I had an idea. I said to him, “You know your brain is being a bully right now.” That stopped him in his tracks and made him think. I knew I was onto something. We began to talk about how his brain was making him believe he couldn’t do something, which made him want to give up and not even try. I told him his brain was being very mean, just like a bully. By using the word bully, my son was able to put a concrete definition to the belief he had in his head. Not only did it allow him to connect the two, but he knew bullying was not something he should accept, he had to act against it. This analogy has given us a new way to talk about how we listen to the voice in our heads. It’s also given us a new way to identify when the bully brain might be taking over and what we can do to stop it.
Bullying is a huge topic and not one that can be covered all in one blog post. We can however start with the bully closest to us, the one that lives in our head. By first taking the power away from our own bully brain, we also take away some of the power from the other bullies who cross our path.
Stay tuned, I'm re-opening my class "Communication through Connection" this month. Keep an eye out for all the details!
I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.