Why are some children and adults more susceptible to bullying?
How can we develop a protective shield against bullying?
No matter what form abuse or bullying takes it creates pain. Depending on the emotional memory of early childhood and youth we feel and resolve pain to varying degrees and effectiveness. This emotional memory is what gives us our resiliency and comes from how we perceive our experiences; how we emotionally feel about our experiences in early childhood and youth. I often call this emotional memory our underlying supportive skills. If in early childhood and youth we perceive our experiences as emotionally supportive, if we are shown, taught and observe patience, self-esteem, optimism, emotional control and self-regulation, we absorb and reflect a calmness, a peace that over time becomes our steady and reactive state. In the future with these underlying supportive skills and a calm reactive state, if bullied we are less prone to emotional overreaction stemming from insecurity and low self-esteem. When children are in an emotionally supportive environment they develop the underlying supportive skills that allow for success and happiness in the future. Do you as a parent fully understand how to develop these underlying supportive skills in your children and provide them with a positive emotional memory? These skills are learned. Parents can learn how to improve these skills in their children. When children experience patience, optimism, self-esteem, emotional control and self-regulation in their environments they learn and absorb these skills and they will be less susceptible to bullies. If bullied they will respond in an appropriate and effective way. When children are not given these underlying supportive skills they will vulnerable to the bully’s abuse with possible severe long term consequences.
Let’s skip the statistics and agree that there is way too much bullying going on, online, off line, in person, and with groups. The consequences can be negative for those being bullied in the short term but can be much more sever later in life. Kids that are bullied, and bullies, both have increased risk of severe negative consequences later in life such as difficulty maintaining positive relationships, a higher risk of developing mental illness, show a significant increase of anxiety, panic disorders and depression, a higher risk of self-harm and contemplating suicide.
When I work with individuals and parents I often express the fact that most people and parents are not like them, they don’t seek to better their parenting skills. Most people don’t recognize the need for proactive learning and skill development. Most wait until crisis occurs and often suffer the consequence of not being prepared. Parents need to prepare children for different situations in life in a proactive manner. What if we actually deliberately and intentionally taught our kids to have patience, optimism, self-esteem, emotional maturity and self-regulation? This occurs through deliberate and intentional frequent conversations on important topics, not one or two discussions every now and then. If certain topics were discussed and certain skills practiced they would never be bullied and if they were they would not suffer deleterious mental and emotional repercussions later in life. Families that I have taken through the course Conversations We All Should Have, say they are better prepared for bullying and life’s stresses in general. You can’t wait for the school, the community, the government or law enforcement to stop bullying. Bullying has always been around and will always be around. The only new aspect is the internet which allow bullying to magnify its effect due to a larger audience.
Bullying only works because we are over sensitive, insecure or afraid. This is not to insinuate that being a sensitive person or being insecure or afraid is not justified at times but that we need to learn to not allow others to control our lives with bullying or it will continue. Learning to be confident and secure is the only way to avoid bullying. Bullies don’t bother secure confident people. Bullies are mostly insecure and often feel unloved. Although some bullies have strong self-esteem and have chosen to correct their perception of weakness in the world as their modus operandi. Bullies have chosen to use abusive behavior to get attention and make themselves feel important and powerful. Bullies often travel in groups but not always.
Whether you and your children have been bullied or not there is a need to actually practice specific skills that will prepare you and your children for the bully that will appear. You need to learn how to understand and deal with the bully mindset. If you want to learn to defend yourself physically you would join a reputable martial arts school and study for three to four years to acquire the necessary skills. If you want to defend yourself or teach your children to defend themselves against the emotional aspects of a bully you need to learn and practice specific mental and emotional skills. Without certain positive emotional skills knowing the mental steps required for defense against a bully may not be enough. We need the emotional content connected to the mental steps.
Learning not to be bullied requires:
First learning to develop the underlying supportive skills (a positive emotional memory) that develops resiliency and protect us against life’s stresses in general including bullying.
Secondly learn to defend ourselves against the specific circumstances of bullying Using Practice scenarios (Situational Preparedness practice or role play, examples below)
Third schools, communities and businesses need to use positive peer pressure to create a culture of zero tolerance for any abusive behavior.
Let’s discuss these three anti bullying requirements further.
First… We can prevent or stop bullying by learning and practicing the underlying supportive skills (develop a positive emotional memory) in the form of patience, optimism, emotional control, self-esteem and self-regulation, that provide strong resiliency. A child’s emotional memory is the feeling part of experiences that a child has gone through. As human beings we have memory in different categories. Mental memory is our ability to remember didactic information. Muscle memory is our ability for our muscles to remember certain coordinated movements. The emotional memory I speak of is our ability to remember how we reacted (how we felt) in in early childhood and youth in regards to our environment, experiences and our relationships. When we are older we react the way we have learned when we were younger. Positive emotional memory reflects our degree of resiliency, our inner peace or resolve. Emotional memory comes from how we learn to recognize, regulate and act out from our thinking and emotions in early childhood and youth. How we think, feel and behave.
As people we all want attention, appreciation and love. As children weather we are supported or not, we will still have the same need to be recognized, appreciated and loved. If supported well children will seek appreciation and love through pro social behavior. If children have not been supported well they may have low self-esteem, lack optimism and have difficulty having positive relationships. These children will have lower grades, will be at risk for drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues later in life. In an effort to receive love and attention some children will become bullies, while others may turn inward and become reclusive. We need to understand that both the bully and the person susceptible to bullying are two sides of the same coin each acting out in different ways but both with increased risk of mental health issues later in life. For these children their emotional memory is negative and they react accordingly.
Peer pressure never ends but for youth, fitting in can be of monumental importance. It is important to have specific conversations with children to discern appropriate thinking, feeling and behavior. People, especially youth will migrate to where they feel supported. If a parent supports their children well, children will use that support and behave according to the values of their support connection. If a child feels unsupported in the home they may go along with inappropriate behaviors of the group that they feel supports them. In this case they are at risk for becoming a bully or becoming the victim of bullying. Kids go to where they perceive they are emotionally understood and supported.
Science has shown that if we have conversations and practice methodology about specific topics, like bullying, in early childhood and youth, we can instill an underlying supportive resiliency (a positive emotional memory) that protects us against the stresses of the world, one them being bullies. Talking to and practicing certain skills with your children will give them a menu of choices to use when different situations arise. Children will remember what you teach and practice with them. Practicing responses to aggression is also beneficial for adults. When parents or families go through the program Conversations We All Should Have with families they have many conversations about important topics allowing for the development of the underlying supportive skills which helps develop resiliency (positive emotional memory) and supports strong relationships, good grades and a more prosocial behavior.
The second and beneficial way to prepare for and improve our ability to deal with a bully is to practice for that specific situation. When we practice specific situational preparedness or role play we allow ourselves and our children to learn and have a menu of different choices for when bullying situations occur. Reading books or articles without actual practice methodology will not produce significant long term positive results. Learning the skills to deal with bullies requires deliberately and intentionally practice (Article The importance of practice). This requires a serious commitment to learning and practicing certain ways of thinking, feeling and behaving in order for habit to develop. Only when habit is formed is a skill developed. These skills can’t be learned by reading a book or article alone. Change or improvement only occurs when habit is formed and habit requires practice to create change or improvement.
Bullying Practice Scenarios
The following is a sample of practice scenarios to prepare for a bully. Take some time and set up some role play scenarios. This role play needs to be done carefully and with proper feedback and discussion especially if someone is having difficulty with bullying. If you would like some help with bully role play please contact me at Conversations We All Should Have.
How should we react? What character traits should we use?
Ask Children what they will do when others ask them to:
A person makes a negative statement about us. (Fat, ugly, stupid, the way we look, talk, dress, car, home, religion, heritage, gender, sexual preference, or…
A person makes negative comments about someone else
A person is physically abusive, hits us ,takes something from us, blocks our path
Someone writes something mean about us on the internet or by text
Take alcohol and your underage
Try a drug
Cheat on a test or help someone else cheat
Talk poorly about someone or support someone that does
Lie or lie to protect someone else that did wrong
Skip homework to be with friends
Write negative things about someone on the internet
A person taunts us to do something that we don’t want to do. Steal something, Cheat on a test
Third we need to get the school, community and business cultures to stop allowing abuse and create a no tolerance attitude for abuse. This means that schools need to develop a culture of understanding and behaviors that show compassion with zero tolerance for abusive behavior in any form. If schools used peer pressure to make the students aware of the way a person looks when they are being a bully or supporting a bully with attention. That they look weak, afraid and immature. Then bullies and those that support them would be more aware of their behaviors negative appearance. Schools need to reward strength of character for not participating in any type of bullying and speaking up when necessary. Schools can use peer pressure in a responsible manner. (For information on lectures regarding bullying contact me)
Things to discuss
Peer pressure can be a strong force in our lives especially youth. Having discussions on the subject is one way to let your children know you care. Talking about specific situations allows your children to know what you expect from them. What does it say about you when you go along with others to please them even when you know you shouldn’t? Does this reflect confidence and self-esteem, or insecurity and fear. When you have a conversation about bullying, discuss being bullied as well as being a bully. Emphasize that seeking support when feeling sad, angry or afraid is a sign of maturity and strength. Discuss ways to deal with the circumstance. Talk about the use of our character to support others. Agreeing with others when they bully others is not acceptable. Teach children that standing around watching or filming with a phone or reading the comments on social media is wrong. Not supporting those being bullied by saying something, walking away or getting help from an adult is a sign of strength. Allowing bullying contributes to bully behavior. Bullies only have power because they have an audience. This is why the internet is popular with a bully, comments can be viewed by many people adding to their sense of power and control. Have a discussion about the tendency for some people to use authority abusively. Explain that bullies act the way they do because they are afraid and feel unloved or unwanted or they use their power incorrectly. This doesn’t mean that we should tolerate bullying but we do need to understand it. Discuss personal feelings. It is normal to feel uncomfortable and even afraid when people are abusive. It is up to us as parents to develop mental and emotional defenses and make sure we talk often to our kids.
Keep your password a secret from other kids. Let your parents have your passwords.
Think about who sees what you post on-line.
Avoid places and people where bullying happens.
Stay near adults and other kids
Do not say anything about a person to others or on line that you don’t want someone else to know
Do not speak negatively about anyone, learn to voice your opinion in a productive responsible manner.
Do not share negative information given by others. When others feel offended they may retaliate.
Say only good things or be quiet.
TYPES OF BULLYING
Saying or writing hurtful comments
Inappropriate comments about physical-ness
Inappropriate sexual comments
Challenging someone to demean them
Threatening to harm someone
Hurting a person’s body, hitting, kicking, pushing
Blocking passage, tripping
Throwing something at someone
Taking someone’s things
Breaking someone’s things
SOCIAL BULLYING/ RELATIONAL BULLYING
Attempting to damage someone’s reputation or relationships.
Not including someone to be hurtful
Telling others not to be friends with someone
Spreading rumors about someone directly or through the Internet
Embarrassing someone in public
Supporting those that bully
Possible feelings and symptoms of bullying:
Withdrawal, sad, lonely
Outcast, feel unpopular
Feel sick, Increased complaints of stomach pain or headaches
Have problems at school, school grades suffer
Not wanting to go to school
Decline in social interaction, people stop calling
Changes in attitude, making negative statements about themselves or others
Bully other kids
Mental health issues later in life (poor relationships, anxiety, depression, panic, self-harm, consider suicide)
How to respond to verbal and social bullying
The best response in no response. Walk away say nothing. Do not respond in person or online. Usually bullies will stop when they realize they can’t create pain or reaction in the other person. Giving a response may still be attention to the bully.
Defending yourself verbally is an option but you must be smart and prepared for rebuttal.
No matter what happens find a trusted adult, teacher and parent and tell them about the incident.
Talk to a parent about the incident and how you feeling inside. Discuss ways to deal with the circumstance.
If you are serious about preparing your child for success and happiness give me a call I would enjoy speaking with you. My main emphasis is on developing the underlying supportive skills, a positive emotional memory, that our kids can carry with them into the future. Reading an article or a book is only the very beginning of learning a skill if you want to be prepared for bullying you must have certain conversations and practice specific scenarios with deliberation and intentionality. For information on Dealing with the bully mindset, a Lecture on Bullying, Youth Mentoring and Family Growth Programs contact me through the contact page.
W.E. Copeland et al. Childhood bullying involvement predicts low-grade systemic inflammation into adulthood. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Vol. 111, May 27, 2014, p, 7570.
W.E. Copeland et al. Adult psychiatric outcomes of bullying and being bullied by peers in childhood and adolescence. JAMA Psychiatry. Vol. 70, April 2013, p. 419.
A. Sourander et al. Association of bullying behavior at 8 years of age and use of specialized services for psychiatric disorders by 29 years of age. JAMA Psychiatry. Vol. 73, February 2016, p. 159.
S.T. Lereya et al. Adult mental health consequences of peer bullying and maltreatment in childhood: Two cohorts in two countries. The Lancet Psychiatry. Published online April 28, 2015
R. Takizawa et al. Adult health outcomes of childhood bullying victimization: Evidence from a five-decade longitudinal British birth cohort. American Journal of Psychiatry. Vol. 171, July 2014, p. 777.
D. Wolke and S.T. Lereya. Long-term effects of bullying. Archives of Disease in Childhood. Vol. 100, September 2015, p. 879