Bullying has reached outrageous proportions in and out of school. I have a lot of experience with bullying as I have been a parent educator for 25 years and have been a teacher and school administrator for 30. I am also the parent of 4 (now grown) nearly bully-proof kids.
I have studied the characteristics of kids who do not get bullied or who are able to keep from drawing the attention of bullies – the so-called bully-proof kids. This is what I have discovered.
First, bully proof kids have a strong sense of self. They know what they are good at and what interests them. They don’t spend a lot of energy tying to be something they are not: cool, strong, popular, etc. This sense of self is developed in homes and classrooms that share the following characteristics:
o Children are encouraged very early and continuously, to experiment emotionally and socially AND supported in reflecting on and discovering what works and what doesn’t work in social situations, rather than being told how to behave. Their parents and teachers are there for them, loving and listening, when things go well and when social disasters happen. The parents don’t project their own social fears on their children but encourage the children to find their own social solutions and their own sense of power and compassion in social situations.
o Children are also supported in experimenting with their interests and supported in doing the things they like and are good at rather than being pushed into activities that satisfy only the adults.
Second, bully proof kids are not overly concerned about what the bully thinks about them. Their ego does not get involved. A bully can only bully if he or she can ignite an emotional charge in the victim, a fear or a sense of humiliation or shame. If the potential victim of bullying does not have anything to feel ashamed about and knows that there are resources – adults for example – who will help keep him or her safe from actual attack, there is no “juice” in bullying. Children who grow up without feeling self-shame are the ones who are listened to and respected in their families. Too often we contribute to creating victim – like children when we belittle, diminish, ignore, discount, or patronize our children when they are little and we consider their interests and discoveries as cute and not worthy of our respect and reverence.
Third, bully proof kids have a support system, other friends and/or adults who they can count on to love them no matter what. Too many children do not feel that they can count on their parents and teachers to love and understand them because we have decided that our parent/teacher role is to start a campaign of changing our kids from day one. We apply all kinds of pressure, sometimes aggressively, sometimes lovingly, to form and shape our kids into our image of how we think they should be because it is more convenient for us than dealing with their childlike interests, emotions and behaviors. We say that we are preparing them for the future, but in doing so we lose sight of how much we are losing in the present.
Children and teens who are being bullied can be taught to turn it around, but it takes dedication and lots of soul-searching from the adults who are helping them – a willingness to look at our responsibilities regarding how we have, perhaps unwittingly, taught our kids to be victims, bullies, and by-standers who don’t speak up or help.