Bullying is a big subject because there is so much of it going on in the schools, playgrounds and social settings that children populate. It is also a tough subject. One reason is that in treating bullying many of the intervention processes tend to focus on trying to control the bully. Although that is certainly a logical approach, professionals and parents alike know all too well, that trying to control the behavior of anyone is hard if not outright impossible.
Parents of children with special needs might react to the actions of a bully with hyper-vigilance not only because they are naturally defensive of their child, but also these parents are practiced at trying to make their child's life easier. For many, their protective instincts are already operating at full throttle.
So what are parents to do when inappropriate behavior of another child is affecting the emotional well-being of their child? The first defense is to, 'know the enemy,” and get a good idea of the motivation of a bully and why this child might be turning to this mode of behavior. Here are a few insights:
First of all, most people do not do things to intentionally hurt other people. It's not that they don't hurt others, it's just that their primary motivation is not to hurt, but to give themselves something they think (sometimes at a very deep subconscious level) they need. Perhaps it is a feeling of superiority (that is rooted in self-doubt or even self-loathing), or maybe it's a way to win peer approval. More than likely, it is a mode of behavior that they learned and find somewhat effective in either making them feel better or stopping-or at least distracting them from– an inner pain.
To put it bluntly, bullies have something hurting inside of them and they are using the tactic of bullying to try to make it stop. The problem is that this naivete solution doesn't work. So then they do what so many people do when a mode of behavior does not give when what they need-they do it more. The way some professionals explain this dysfunctional process is, “You can't get enough of what you really don't need.” So the bully hurts others, gets a short fix of better feelings, but ultimately feels worse and goes out to hurt some more.
To give a clearer understanding of this, think of a person who is addicted to gambling. They go out and lose a ton of money and try to solve it by gambling more. In many ways bullies are addicted to bad behavior and it is a real uphill battle to cure anyone of an addiction.
The interesting twist is the very thing the bully wants “to feel better” is what they rob the other child of and the child who is the victim can easily fall prey to feeling really, really bad. It is natural, it is instinctive and it is pervasive to feel bad when someone bullies you. But the truth is that taking that emotional trip is actually optional.
That's right. One of the most important messages a parent can give children is that they have the power and the ability to take control of their lives. And one of the most effective ways to control their lives is to take control of what they think because those thoughts result in how they feel. Thoughts trigger feelings. And the bully is trying to make the other child feel bad, but no one-absolutely no one-can control the way a person responds and ultimately feels.
In other words, it is an inner battle once a bully throws cruel words or actions at another child. The responding child can choose how to react. Yes, it does sound simple, but in reality, it's really, really hard to control a response. But parents, this is not the first time your child has come up against a challenge and for better or worse it will not be the last.
What if instead of feeling bad, the child had another way to “reframe” the situation? What if the child looked at a bully as a child with a disability, a disability that did not allow that bully of a child to respond in a normal, acceptable and civil manner? What if the child who was targeted by the bully knew that this bully was broken, broken inside and invisible, but broken none the less?
One of the most brilliant and insightful techniques of handling difficult situations comes from pre-school and nursery school teachers. With all their training and all their experience, they tell children the best way to handle an adversary or a conflict-ridden situation. It is a simple, effective way to resolve those tense situations where one child is trying to control or hurt or trespass on another and it is highly, highly effective. “Just walk away.”
When a bully tries to steal your child's emotional well-being, realize that that bully really does not have access to it, your child does. He or she can give it to the bully or not. Your child can choose to respond or not. By reaching for a better thought, by feeling good despite the intentions of another, by holding on to a positive image of who they are, your child is truly the winner and winning really does feel good.