Bullying – 2 sides of the coin

I’d like you to join me in the playground of a small comprehensive school in Derbyshire.  It’s first break and all the kids are running outside in a burst of energy, desperate to make the most of their 15 minutes of freedom.  Year 7’s are at the far side of the playground, still finding their feet at “big school”.  We walk together down the path towards the younger children.  Some are “playing” not wanting to leave their old primary school rituals behind; others are in discussion or flirting in mixed groups.  Our eyes are drawn to a smaller boy, Stuart, alone in the corner of the playground.  He looks happy enough, just “being” by himself, he’s watching the others interact, taking it all in.

One of the other boys, Bradley, breaks from a group and walks over to him. “Alright fleabag?” Bradley asks as he saunters closer.

“yyyyyeah.” I feel you tense beside me.

“Got yourself a sssssstutter tttttthere fleabag?”

“wwwwhat do you want?”

“You know I want your lunch money, why else would talking to a fleabag like you?” “Ppppplease ddddon’t hurt mmme,” comes the reply as Stuart puts his arms up to protect his face.  Bradley leans in and lands a punch on Stuarts arm.

“Don’t be such a baby, that doesn’t hurt.  Now just hand over your money and then I won’t need to do it again.” Stuart hands over his money.

You turn to me.  “That boy needs punishing.  I expect he’s one of those kids who has everything and wants even more” you whisper.  “That poor little boy, someone needs to protect him.” When school has finished we follow Bradley home.  You want to know what kind of house he lives in, you want to see how his parents dote on him and fill him with ideals which allow him to assume he can pick on other children.  We follow him to a small, tree lined estate on the outskirts of Belper town centre.  I notice how he seems to be walking slower and slower as he gets closer to home.  We follow him inside.  Bradley’s mum is in the kitchen washing up, he greets her warmly.  She wraps him up in a big bear hug and kisses the top of his head but lets go quickly as dad walks in.

“For Christ’s sake, pick your damn bag up off the floor will you?” he demands as he cuffs Bradley across the back of the head.  Bradley flinches.  “Did you need a cuddle from mummy?” Bradley’s looks up at his mum, she does ‘that face’, the one that’s kind of saying “sorry” and “you know what he’s like” all in one look. Bradley walks towards the kitchen door; he needs to be anywhere else but here.

“You can tidy that tip of a room up fleabag!” dad snarls as he sticks a leg out tripping Bradley as he leaves the kitchen. We watch as Bradley stumbles, banging his arm against the doorframe.  He flinches and rubs his arm.

“Don’t be such a baby, that doesn’t hurt,” quips dad. Bradley makes for the stairs to his room, his sanctuary.  He looks so much smaller now, possibly even as small as Stuart.

You turn to me aghast, “That wasn’t what I was expecting.  This boy needs help!”

Do you still see a bully when you look at Bradley?

Stuart on the other hand comes arrives home to a very loving and giving family.  He’s close to both of his parents and loves time at home.  He’s been picked on quite a few times at school as he doesn’t know how to deal with confrontation, none of his family has ever argued.  He hasn’t yet learned the skills he needs to look confident and stand up for himself when he’s in a difficult situation.

Do you still see a victim when you look at Stuart?

These are two extreme cases.  Any of us could be on either side of the bullying equilibrium.  It could be triggered by something as simple as a change to our routine, family circumstances or friendship circle.  Such a change can trigger us to do one of two things: Promote ourselves to maintain the position we feel we’re worth. Demote ourselves into a lesser position in the family, our friendship group or society as a whole.

You see, Bradley has seen someone more vulnerable than him at school, someone he feels he can belittle to make himself feel better.  He feels he needs to claw back some of the certainty & significance he feels he loses when at home. As parents, carers and teachers, it’s our job to ensure that equilibrium is created and maintained, making sure that the needs of our children are met despite the circumstances.

Here are my top 5 tips to help children deal with such changes in circumstance:

  1. Spend time reviewing and experimenting with social situations.  Review situations in life or on television.  Discuss how each situation came about and what it must be like to be each of the characters in the scenario.  Help them to notice when people distort information for their own gains and how we all have a different perspective on what we see, hear and feel.
  2. Help them build self-esteem.  Praise the things they do well, focus on the behaviour you want them to develop and help them feel really good about it.  Help to reframe situations they deem negative into something positive they can focus on.
  3. Implement accountability for everything they do and say.  You will need to practice what you preach, be accountable for your own actions and be clear on the implications they have on others.
  4. Help to identify options There is never only one solution available to us, even for the most difficult of situations.  Help to identify the options available and understand the implications – the benefits and challenges of each.
  5. Work together on problem solving activities.  Working with you on fun everyday activities will create an understanding that they can count on you when it comes to solving the more difficult problems.

Debbie Kinghorn is an NLP therapist and coach working with children, adults and families.  Debbie is based in Derbyshire and can be contacted by email: debbiek@NLP4Kids.org  For more language tips (and she has a lot of them), follow her on Facebook or Twitter

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