Understanding Bullies: Who They Are and How to Silence Them

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“Watch your thoughts, they become words.

Watch your words, they become actions.

Watch your actions, they become habits.

Watch your habits, they become character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

- Educator and author Patrick Overton

Bullying can happen anywhere at anytime to anyone. And, having taught both elementary and now high school, I’ve learned that bullying has a face. It is one of inner turmoil and self-doubt. It stirs and stews inside a person until it can no longer be contained, so it projects outward pushing its negative force onto someone else. The victim of the bullying is often given little notice. More often than not, he or she doesn’t even see it coming.

How to Stop Bullying

Recently, I came to a realization that no parent wants to face — my child is being bullied. My spunky 6-year-old, Maggie, came home in tears one day after a boy in her class made fun of her favorite Batman & Joker T-shirt. Because my husband and I are well-acquainted with Maggie’s flair for the dramatic, we didn’t want to jump to conclusions too quickly. Unfortunately, when asking about the tone and details of what happened, we learned that the boy not only took a shot at our daughter, but he also rallied and encouraged others to do the same by telling her she was wearing a “boy shirt.” And my poor girl crumbled under the pressure. She just could not understand why people would treat her this way in what was supposed to be her safe place … her classroom.

The three of us talked about everything a lot. And many hugs, kisses and comforting words later, our girl was on the mend. So, we took the opportunity to go over some strategies she could use the next time something happens.

  1. Ignore or ask him or her to stop.

  2. Walk away.

  3. Tell a trusted adult.

Armed with her new plan of action, Maggie was content and ready to start talking about other topics that evening. But I really wanted to make another point with both of my kids. I wanted to demonstrate to them how being on either side of a bullying situation can be painful. So we did a little exercise together.

I asked both of them to draw pictures of themselves. Maggie wasted no time sketching her smiling face complete with perfectly-coiffed hair and fluttering eyelashes.

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When the self-portraits were complete, I asked them to crumple their papers into little balls. Then, I asked them to open their papers and smooth out all the creases they had just made. And I repeatedly encouraged them to get rid of all the wrinkles in the paper. They both tried with all their might, each trying different techniques to flatten the paper back to its original state. But nothing worked.

 

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Then, all of a sudden, I saw it click with both of them. Tucker, my 8-year-old, referenced a saying that hangs on the whiteboard in his classroom. “These wrinkles are like the mean words, Mama. No matter how much you try to forget the mean things the bully said, they stay in your head.”

And just as I was about to address the opposing point of view of the bully, Maggie jumped in. “Right! And when I say a mean thing to Tucker and hurt his feelings, I feel bad about it.”

(Can you feel my maternal pride?)

Both of my kids were correct. It’s amazing how well a simple visual can explain such a complicated problem. And it turns out that the little quote in Tucker’s classroom is pretty perfect:

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