The notion of bullying strikes fear into the hearts of both parents and teachers alike, and understandably so. Bullying, left unchecked, can affect the health, happiness and academic success of children in both the short and long term. However, much of what happens to children is in fact normal conflict that, when managed well, can be a gift in disguise.
Conflict happens throughout a person’s life as a result of people having different needs, values and ideas. With the right tools, conflict has the potential to help people to grow and mature, and to gain self-awareness, assertiveness and empathy for others. Knowing whether you child is experiencing conflict that can be resolved or being victimised and in need of significant adult intervention is imperative when deciding how to react to situations of disagreement, and often distress.
The behaviours involved in both conflict and bullying are many times incredibly similar. For instance, teasing, threatening, ganging up on someone, punching, kicking or gossiping about others are all examples of potential conflict situations. If it is conflict that your child is living through, you can help them to build bridges by equipping them with conflict resolution skills and techniques that are the subject of this Empowering Life Skills site. The way to discern if it has gone beyond conflict into the realm of bullying, however, is threefold.
IS IT BULLYING?
First of all, bullying is targeted. It is aimed at a particular person or group of people. Secondly, it is repeated. This means that there is a history of these behaviours. And lastly, bullying occurs when there is an actual or perceived power difference between the perpetrator and the victim. This power difference could be due to age, size, or a variety of other factors. Whereas bullying is far less common, and should never be expected nor accepted, everyone can expect to experience conflict regularly and learn how to manage it.
Conflict, when not managed well, is frequently a precedent to bullying. In order to empower children to autonomously navigate common quarrels, it is essential that mediation tools are both taught in a timely fashion and are easy to use, thus preventing conflict from escalating into more concerning bullying situations. Instead of making poor choices in their emotive reactions to arguments, or trying to avoid unpleasant interactions altogether, children can be taught words and actions to deter bullies and to attract friends. For example, the tone of voice a child employs or their posture and eye contact when speaking to other children can greatly impact their ability to solve a problem.
The competencies that young people are coached in will enable them to gain self-confidence, to minimise their chances of victimisation, and to achieve happy and harmonious friendships and relationships with those around them. For life.
So, before you put together a plan of response to your child’s tears of anguish or outrage, ask a few questions to be sure you know what you’re dealing with. Only then can you be sure that your involvement will be effective in assisting your child to overcome the social obstacles that can cause roadblocks to their success.
WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES?
One door leads to emotional resilience and positive, fulfilled citizenship, while the other door leads to years of disappointment and difficulty that result in disconnection and isolation. Your pivotal role in distinguishing between conflict and bullying, and teaching, modelling, encouraging and reinforcing positive responses to each, is the key.
WHERE TO GO FOR HELP
For more about equipping children to deal with everyday conflict and bullying, read Empowered for Life, the valuable and informative book helping schools and parents ensure children have the skills to cope with a rapidly changing society, and are better positioned to be capable and active citizens. You can also encourage your school’s principal to register for the BRIDGE BUILDERS program which involves children in workshops that provide them with a comprehensive range of skills to deal with conflict and bullying.