Bullying Part 1: How Do You Define Bullying? How To Understand It?
Bullying is a well-known term today and can have a broad definition. How do you define bullying? There are different types of bullying, either physical or emotional harm caused from a person in an “observed power” position on someone in an “observed subordinate” position.
The risk here is that feelings of insecurity may encourage school age and even high school kids to want to feel “part of” something or some group and to be “accepted” by the majority.
In grade school around the ages of 7-8, bully like behaviors begin to take on a greater risk as children of this age group begin to form their identity and sense of self. Children at this stage are uniquely sensitive to what others think of them and form a sense of self with the contributions of others perceptions of them. The risk here is that feelings of insecurity may encourage school age and even high school kids to want to feel “part of” something or some group and to be “accepted” by the majority. The result can be a vicious combination of groups forming against other groups and using words; emotional insults and/or physical force to ally group members from within groups and to ostracize those outside the group. Those perceived as “outside” the more powerful group are likely to feel alone, isolated and fearful. While it helps when these individuals are allied with others in their group, it is common that these children will still hesitate expressing their needs, worries or fears.
This silence around bullying can be very damaging to the suffering person’s psychological well-being, and to their sense of themselves, and their emotional world. Specifically, it is common for a target of bullying to fear retaliation and or ridicule – and when the child/adolescent does not speak or share what’s happening or stand up for themselves against the bully it perpetuates feelings of insecurity, self criticism and self doubt.
Some strategies to help:
- Pay attention and listen to your child’s verbal descriptions of what happened at school and any effort on their part to share with you their feelings.
- Be attuned to their feelings: It is completely understandable to feel fear and hurt and to be anxious (I.e maybe about going to school).
- Try to empathize by simply LISTENING to them and to what they need and imagining what they must feel.
- Try to let go of the urgency to fix or solve. When listening to their feelings keep their age and life stage in mind. (Ie. not being invited to a party or not being accepted into a team is indeed very important and a big deal). Always remember: No matter what your child feels their feelings are always valid.
- Ask them how you can help. For the younger children coaching them and /or speaking to the school yourself may be an option and/or speaking to the other child’s parents. This is of course particularly important when you are really concerned for your child’s safety.
- Always be mindful of your own feelings and reactions and your sense of the severity of the situation. That said, bear in mind that involving the school and or other parents is not always helpful and depends on the age group of your child and should be an open dialogue with your child.
- It’s important to help them have a sense of control and strength in a situation in which they already feel so inferior; help involve them by taking into account their thoughts with your logical sense of what’s in their best interest.
Pay attention to signs of bullying
Help as your child sees fit
Talk to others
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Tanya works in private practice offering assessment, psychotherapy and consulting services. She also works at Boomerang Health, powered by Sick Kids where she is involved in psychotherapy for youth and families.