“Bully” – it’s a label given to many kids.
But bullying is a form of abuse, and it needs to be treated as such. In the same way that we wouldn’t feel comfortable casually categorizing adults as “domestic abusers,” “domestic abuse victims” or “people who ignore domestic abuse,” we should reject and challenge the idea of labeling a child as either a “bully,” a “bully victim” or a “bystander.”
As adults, we know what these labels mean… and guess what, our children do too! We need to see past these labels, and view kids as individuals. A child is more than a just a “bully” and we need to see their other qualities and strengths. As adults, we can do this. But children have a harder time seeing beyond the label. Once a child has been categorized as a bully, that label can follow them for life.
The KidSafe Foundation recently provided a “Bullying Reduction Workshop” at a school that runs our KidSafe eight week program every year. It was eye-opening. First and foremost, we saw how much teachers about their students. It was evident that each and every one of these people became educators because at some point in their lives, they had a teacher who influenced them. It was also evident that this school, which was no different from any other school, had a pervasive bullying problem and needed intervention. We applaud the administration for opening the doors to find solutions for this ongoing problem.
We believe that a systematic approach is the best way to decrease bullying in schools. It takes everyone – administration, teachers, support staff, parents and students – to effect change. But we know that bullying can be reduced; we’ve seen it happen.
So back to the problem of labels, when we label a child a “bully,” “victim,” or “bystander,” that kind of typecasting can follow him or her through life. They start to believe that they “are what we tell them they are,” and this kind of negative self-fulfilling prophecy can have long-term consequences. We need to focus on the behavior and empower them with words that can build hope and inspire them to make better decisions in the future.
For example, if you see a child “bully” another, take a minute to stop and think before you respond. Instead of reprimanding the child for being mean or being a bully, try saying “Billy, I saw what you did or heard what you said, and that was hurtful. I know that you can make a better choice.” We need to consider our tone of voice and our demeanor when we talk to these children. If you’re addressing a shy child, you may focus on that and perceive them as a victim. And if you convey that in your speech, you may make the child believe it too! They think, “oh, I’m shy,” and begin to see that as a negative, which it doesn’t have to be.
Instead we need to give children support and strategies for handling uncomfortable and abusive situations. We need to give them a voice. Teach them how how to respond to a child who is mean.
For some children, assertiveness comes naturally. But the majority of children need to be coached, talked to and perhaps given cues for exactly how to respond in these types of situations. Children need to know that trusted adults are available for help, and they need to feel comfortable approaching these adults when they need assistance. Early intervention is the key to reducing bullying behaviors. The education of our children and the empowerment of each child to know that they can make better choices needs to start as early as preschool.
But most of all, adults need to be watching and paying attention to the subtle and obvious behaviors of children, so they can intervene early and often. If an adult does not intervene when a child is being hurtful to another child, the child doing the hurtful behavior thinks that he can get away with it, and that there’s nothing wrong with that type of behavior. On the flip side, the child who is on the receiving end of the behavior thinks that adults not only can’t help, but don’t care. Two things we NEVER want a child to feel.
At KidSafe Foundation, we want parents and teachers to stop labeling children and start focusing on changing behaviors, paying more attention and empowering children to make the “right” choices in how they treat people. And when appropriate, advocate for the children, to get them the counseling and support they need before their behaviors have life-altering effects.
Think about your own child. Do you want the label of “bully,” “victim,” or “target,” to follow them throughout life? Or do you want to let your child know that YOU know they can change their behavior?
For more information visit our website at www.kidsafefoundation.org