Is it Really Bullying? Here’s How to Find Out…

Creating a “Bullying Awareness Month” is all about light.  It’s about shining light on the dark places – the places we haven’t wanted to look at in the past.  Bullying used to be something that adults just ignored and encouraged kids to do the same.  “Oh, those kids can be so mean.”  The best we could do was teach boys how to fight and girls how to grin and bear it.

Thank goodness we don’t do that anymore.  Well, I guess some of us do but at least it’s not socially acceptable.  It’s socially acceptable to call bullying out, to convene committees and task forces, to create plans to solve the problem.

We don’t put up with bullying anymore.

The Bully Free Zone

Now, we have a new problem.  In some communities, there is so much light being shone on bullying that it risks being overexposed and mis-used. We are all in the habit of labeling kids as “bullies” as opposed to labeling behavior as “bullying.”  Our friends at Kidpower define bullying as:

The most common definition of bullying is, “a repeated oppression, psychological or physical, of a less powerful person by a more powerful person or group of persons.” Bullying is different from aggression between people of equal power. However, someone can have less power than others for many reasons – being shy, being different, lacking confidence, having problems at home, or lacking physical strength.

When we consider this definition, we must consider that ALL of us are capable of bullying behaviors.  We are all navigating our power in the world all the time so we are all capable of making mistakes as we use our power in relationship to other people.  When we label kids as bullies, we create a very damaging disconnect between ourselves and “the bully.”  We throw compassion out the window and replace it with judgment and shame.  The angry mob is formed and the target becomes our kids.  “That kid is a bully…let’s get him!”  Not only do we disconnect from our children, we disconnect from any accountability that we may need to take around our own bullying behaviors.  “Oh please stop crying.  You misunderstood me.  I am not a bully.  How could what I did make you cry?!?”

Bullying vs. Conflict

I see it with girls all the time.  Many girls believe that their feelings should never be hurt.  If anyone does anything to hurt their feelings, that person immediately becomes a “bully.”   We are writing all month about how to help our daughters be safe, happy, and healthy in their relationships – to give and get respect.  When we know what healthy relationships look, feel, and act like, we protect ourselves from bullying.  Conflicts, disagreements, and big feelings are key elements of happy, healthy relationships.   They happen all the time.  And they should.  Bullying has no place in a healthy relationship.  When someone is being bullied, she is being victimized by another person who’s sole intention is to do them harm.  When someone is bullying, she is mis-using her power, holding her power over someone else, to make herself even more powerful.  Addressing bullying, then, means that we must learn to feel comfortable navigating conflict in our healthy relationships.

Talking to Your Daughter about Bullying

What can you do to help your daughter navigate bullying without blowing it out of proportion?

  1. Assume the Best Intentions: Remember, when your daughter comes to you about a relationship issue she is having, she is talking about another child.  Someone else’s baby who is, just like your daughter, going through a process of learning how to navigate his/her power in the world.  Assume that this child is not an “evil bully” and that s/he is just doing the best they can in their own process.
  2. Become the Trusted Adult: You want your daughter to be able to come to you with any trouble she is having.  You want her to know that she can trust you to be there for her, no matter what.  You can build this trust by staying calm and empathetic when listening to her stories.  This will be hard.  You will probably feel an instinct to come to her rescue, to solve her problems for her, and to bring your own emotions into the situation.  That’s okay.  You can notice those things are happening without letting them take over.
  3. Ask curious questions: When you show your daughter your calm and empathetic self, you are in a much better position to ask questions for sole purpose of gathering information about the situation instead of getting someone in trouble.  With the calmest, most neutral tone you can manage, ask questions like:
    1. What else happened?
    2. Tell me more about that.
    3. Is there anything you did to make the problem bigger?
    4. Is there anything you did to make the problem better?
  4. Build Her Resiliency Muscles: Your daughter will always, her whole life, be in relationships where her feelings will get hurt and she will hurt someone else’s feelings.  Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to change that.  What you can do is help her learn how to be okay with having the feelings that don’t feel so good and moving through them.  Do you know about Emotion Coaching?  Check this out.
  5. Try to See the Bigger Picture:  Just from the sheer fact that you are reading this blog post, I know one thing for sure about your daughter.  I know that she comes from a home with incredible privilege.  She lives in a home where she has a parent or caregiver who is intentional about how to care for her and her social/emotional needs.  She comes from a home where there is a value around learning.  Your daughter is going to school, living in neighborhoods, and engaged in activities with a diverse group of kids.  And these kids come from all different types of households.  Many of these households do not (or, for some reason, cannot) hold or act on the same kinds of protections or values that you are.  This is important to keep in mind the next time you feel rage about how another child is treating your child.  Remember that adults model inappropriate mis-uses of power for kids ALL THE TIME.  ALL our children are doing their very best to make the right choices and don’t always succeed.  I’m not asking you to excuse harmful behavior, but I am suggesting that you see it in a larger context.

This post is #6 of 25 Tips to Teach Your Daughter to Respect Herself, Command Respect, and Respect Others.  Wanna make sure you get all 25 Tips for Bullying Awareness Month?  CLICK HERE and we’ll send ’em right to your email!
For more incredible Go Girls! resources for helping your girl stay safe, happy, and healthy in her relationships, check out Kidpower and get your copy of Starring Celia.