Is It Bullying Or Just Bad Behavior

To be a parent is to walk a tightrope. To strike the perfect balance between teaching your children about utopia and reality. The way things should be and the way the actually are. In utopia, my daughter’s friends play nicely. They never hurt each other physically or emotionally. But in reality, friends don’t always get along. Some of those “friends” are not so nice. And some of them are actually bullies.

Recently my 8-year-old daughter was having trouble with 2 of her “friends.” When she told me what was happening, I felt the tension of the tightrope underneath my feet. I was torn. I thought about what my mom used to tell me whenever I had trouble at school. “If someone hits you, hit them back,” she would say so matter-of-factly. But today, it’s much more complicated. If you give that same advice (not that I would), your child could be the one getting expelled, self-defense or not. A child that tells the teacher risks gaining the reputation of tattletale, which is about the worst thing you can call an elementary-aged kid. Doing nothing leaves the door open for the behavior to continue. So what should your child do? What should you do?

First, access the situation. I know the term “bully” is used quite frequently these days, but is that what’s really going on? Not all bad behavior is bullying. Sometimes it’s just kids being kids, having disagreements, displaying rude behavior, or just being mean. Wikipedia defines bullying as:

The use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others. The behavior is often repeated and habitual.

I determined that the little boy that called my daughter a bitch was not a bully. Rude, inappropriate and disrespectful, definitely. But not a bully. However, the little girl that hit her and called her names on numerous occasions—she most certainly was, or should I say is a bully.

Next, access your child. While kids that are bullied tend to fit a profile, that isn’t always the case. Characteristics include being sensitive, socially withdrawn, anxious, and passive. Although my daughter can be sensitive at times, her teachers describe her as a leader, confident, and caring with lots of friends. So basically, having a confident social butterfly still doesn’t mean that your child won’t be bullied. Now what?

Bullied or not, I am sure that my daughter could do a better job of standing up for herself. So I’ve been encouraging her to use her confidence to her advantage. I gave her a few phrases to say like, “STOP! DO NOT do that again,” and, “Do not put your hands on me!” And if someone calls her a name she could say, “You must be looking in a mirror,” and just walk away. Body language and tone are also very important. We practice having her stand taller and speak in a firm voice to appear more self-assured. I let her know that if she doesn’t feel comfortable trying any of these tactics in the moment, she should tell a teacher and she should always tell me. And because bullies often appear disguised as friends, we have regular conversations about what it means to be a friend and how to determine whether someone is a friend or just pretending to be one.

As far as our situation, I informed the school of both incidents. Even though it was a one-time incident with the boy, he still needed to be reprimanded for calling someone such an ugly word. And because the incidents with the girl were physical, adults definitely had to get involved. Parents were notified, apologies were made, and so far so good.

I’m pretty sure this won’t be her last encounter with a bully or bad behavior. But hopefully she’ll be better equipped to know the difference and stand up for herself. No matter what, bullying should never be quietly ignored or accepted.

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