I suspect many, if not most of us, have experienced some form of bullying, whether directly or indirectly. It’s very confronting and unpleasant to be on the receiving end of bullying energy, which seeks to ‘overpower’ and control its victim through a very direct attack. The attacks often aim to humiliate and ridicule the person in front of an audience for maximum effect, there is an assertion of dominance with an expectation of compliance. Sadly, bullying is rife throughout our whole society, and schools are no exception.
In fact, this is often the starting point for many and if it isn’t nipped in the bud early, it can become an engrained pattern for both the victim and the perpetrator.
So, how can we support our children to deal with bullies? Those who appear to be ‘different’ are the most vulnerable, this can be anything, from being quiet, uncoordinated, strange hair, very tall, very short, very smart, overweight, underweight to simply eating unusual food. Anyone who, for whatever reason, seems to have set themselves apart from the unspoken code of ‘fitting in’, often for reasons they have absolutely no control over. What feeds the bully is a reaction, this is the hook that snares you and won’t let you go until you’re able to not react. If someone else wants to make fun of your amazingly fabulous hair, let them, they are probably just jealous.
Let’s unpack this a little bit more …
As parents, we want our children to feel safe and confident in being their amazing selves and to be able to withstand the pressure to pretzel themselves into a contorted version of who they are just to fit in. Fitting in is the single most harmful path to take, to choose to abandon the exquisite essence that makes us who we are, for a version of ourselves that, we ‘think’, is more acceptable, sexy, fun to those around us. As in so doing, we will always have a feeling of emptiness, of something missing, which will nag at us our whole life. In order for us to support our children to claim and walk in the absolute knowing of who they are, and not abandon that at the first challenge, we can start by allowing ourselves the space to appreciate who they are, even if it is different from what we were ‘expecting’. What if we pushed aside any preconceived ideas as to how we’d imagined our little boy, or little girl to be and embraced them 100% as they are? This is perhaps easier to do when they are babies, but as they grow and start to challenge our expectations, it can become more difficult. Without even realising it, we can slip into treating our boys differently to our girls, for example, we may be more outraged when our daughter comes home with a graze on her knee, or a bruise on her arm, than if our son does. Why is that? Do we expect that our son will be involved in rough and tumble play, so he’s more likely to have cuts and bruises? Boys skin and flesh is as tender as girls, they feel pain in the same way, both physically and emotionally. Appreciating and nurturing the gorgeous sensitivity in our little boys is as important as it is for our girls. Do we think this could make them a target for bullies? Perhaps, but what makes us ‘think’ that by being sensitive we are more vulnerable and then prone to being picked on? Do we see sensitivity as a weakness, particularly in boys? If this is the case, how wrong we are. As an adult, we can, perhaps, appreciate the importance of sensitivity in a man more, we can see it as a strength and an incredibly beautiful quality to feel in another. By nurturing and confirming the innate tender, sensitive, sweetness in our children, we’re not opening them up to be victims of bullying, the complete opposite is true. We are empowering them to stand strong and true and to be able to deal with situations that arise with confidence and understanding for what is truly before them. Rather than being afraid of the bully they can see how sad it is that someone has given up on themselves to such a point that they have resorted to trying to win friends by trying to be seen as strong and powerful, by attempting to humiliate and dominate another. When that is understood, it’s easy to expose the pathetic attack for what it is, a sad and gutless attempt to win friends and be liked. Not only are we supporting our young people to feel confident to be who they are in life, and equipped to handle the challenging situations they will inevitably be faced with, but most importantly we are empowering them to show others that it’s safe to say 'No' to fitting in, to say 'No' to the bullies, to say 'No' to numbing the sweet tenderness we all knew as children and say 'Yes' to embracing all of who you are, however that looks and feels, and being there for each other.