Bullying is something that you never want your child to engage in, as the bully or the victim or an accomplice. But that doesn’t stop bullying or conflict from happening. So, how can you teach your child the difference between being mean, being rude, and being a bully?
Let’s define the terms.
Conflict can include being rude or mean.
Being rude is when someone is not trying to intentionally hurt the other person. It isn’t a repetitive behavior, and there is not an imbalance of power. For example, Judy asked Martha if she could borrow a pencil. But Martha explained that it wasn’t her pencil, she borrowed it from another friend, so she didn’t want to let Judy use it.
Being mean is when someone is trying to intentionally hurt the other person but they are usually nice, and there is no imbalance of power. For example, if Kyle told Mark that he was a terrible baseball player who should never try out for the baseball team, then Kyle is being mean to Mark.
Bullying is a separate category.
Being a bully is when someone repetitively causes a power imbalance through the use of intimidation or threats, and aims to harm the other person. For example, Sarah tells Amanda to stay away from her friends. If Amanda tries to hang out with them, Sarah threatens that she will tell everyone that Amanda cheats on her tests and is actually in special education. Then Sarah tells her friends to stay away from Amanda because she is stupid and weird.
How progressive schools handle bullying
In progressive schools like Makarios, students, staff, and mentors are all held to a high standard for treating others with kindness and respect. RESPECT is a core tenant of a self-regulated community. Children learn to be responsible, self-determining members of their community through participation as voting members in school meetings where they set positive boundaries and expectations through the creation of community rules. Students also learn to recognize, handle and resolve conflict through participation in the judicial committee.
JC is a mix between a court of ones peers and mediation. Any member of the community can write up another member for being rude, mean, or bullying. Each infraction of the rules is brought before JC where student are given a voice to speak about what occurred and empowered by their peers to resolve the conflict and if necessary find a way for the bully to be penalized or offer some form of restitution. This peer-to-peer accountability teaches life skills like asking for consent, respecting person and property, and the power of words. It also gives bullies a chance to get to the heart of why they made the choices they made and see the effects.
How to talk to your child about bullies
Sometimes kids turn into a bully because they want to feel more powerful, like they have more control, or because that’s the only way they know how to treat others (because, often, that’s how others have treated them). Often they have low self-esteem and a lack of empathy for others. Explain this to your child in terms of toys or video games. Pretend that Bob has the most toys/video games in the world. So, Bob feels that he is better than everyone else and treats others like they are not as good as him.
If your kid doesn’t come home with a broken bone or less money, how can you tell your child is being mistreated? First of all, your child’s mood will be more anxious or distracted. They may not enjoy their favorite activities and probably avoid talking about school or their peers. You will probably notice a difference in their friendships or time spent with friends. Overall their demeanor will likely be shifted to a less confident version.
If you think your child is being bullied, what can you do?
The easiest solution is to simply ask your child and acutely gauge their reactions. You hope (and pray!) that your kid will respond truthfully, but they may become defensive or closed off. If this occurs, try another avenue.
- Use a television show or book as a conversation starter.
- Have another family member, like a sibling or grandparent, try to talk to them about it.
- Talk to your child’s teacher and see if he/she has noticed the bullying.
- Confront the bully’s parents to discuss what is happening.
- If necessary, talk to the school principal or counselor.
- Encourage your child to confront a trusted person (teacher, counselor, sibling, or older friend) about the situation.
- Remind your child that they are the victim, not the bully, so they did not do anything wrong.
Be proactive and encourage your child
Bullies can be tough to stand up to, especially since they pick on kids who are alone. But encourage your child to use the buddy system so that they are never alone, and to STANd up to their bully!
Show Strength through eye contact and confident body language.
Tell an adult, since usually bullying is done secretively.
Assert yourself through powerful (but kind) words that express self-confidence. The bully wants to hurt your feelings and make you angry, so hold back your anger. Maintaining eye contact and using the bully’s name are also helpful tactics to dissolve the tension.
Act Now, don’t wait!
You can use the chart above to teach your kids the difference between being rude, being mean, and being a bully. Then, using the scenarios below, ask your child to determine if each case is being rude, mean, or a bully. Feel free to read them or act them out! These exercises can equip your child with appropriate reactions and responses for conflicts and bullies. (Note: This activity is borrowed from Signe Witson.)
- Kayla tells MacKenzie that she can’t sit with her on the bus today because she is saving the seat for a girl from her Social Studies class.
ANSWER: Kayla & MacKenzie: Kayla is being rude, but here is no evidence of intentional meanness, repetitive behavior or a power imbalance.
- Lucas tells Damien that he can’t play with the Legos because he is the worst builder in the whole first grade.
ANSWER: Lucas is being mean. It appears that his words are intended to hurt Damien. There is no evidence of repetitive behavior or a power imbalance, however
- Talia makes plans to go to the school dance with her new friend, Gwen. Katie tells Talia that if she hangs out at the dance with Gwen that everyone will think she is a total weirdo and no one will like her anymore. At lunch that day, Katie convinces everyone that it would be a really funny joke to all laugh out loud when Talia approached the lunch table.
ANSWER: Katie is acting like a bully. She has creating an unfair balance of power by getting all of the girls at the lunch table to laugh at Talia. She is also using words like “everyone” and “no one” to threaten Talia about how she will be socially excluded if she does not do what Katie wants her to do.
- Devin and David are friends. In school, they had an argument. Devin called David a name and David shoved him out of his way.
ANSWER: Devin and David are engaging in rough play, or rude behavior. This is not bullying because the boys are usually friends, the power balance is relatively equal, and the boys are not intending to harm each other.
- Maggie is making fun of the fact that Jessie hangs out with the boys at recess and wears long basketball shorts to school every day. In gym class, Maggie told her to go play on the boys’ team and the day before in homeroom, she wrote the words “You’re so gay” on Jessie’s desk.
ANSWER: Maggie is acting like a bully. She is making fun of Jessie repeatedly, with intention to cause harm. Slurs based on sexual orientation are particularly cruel for young people and should be taken seriously by adults wishing to create a positive school culture.
- Brady told JP he would beat him up if he touched his cars, then shoved JP out of his way. During math class, he threw a spitball at JP and kicked his chair out from under him. He threatened to punch JP if JP told the teacher.
ANSWER: Brady is acting like a bully. He is engaging in repetitive cruel behavior, designed to hurt JP. He is using intimidation and threats to create a power imbalance.
- Emma and Brit play on the same field hockey team and are normally best friends, but have been in an argument for three days. Emma called Brit a mean name after practice and Brit send Emma a mean text.
ANSWER: Emma and Brit are being mean to each other. They are intending to hurt each other with their words and texts. The girls are normally friends, though, and at this point, this appears to be a mutual argument rather than a repetitive pattern of one-sided cruelty.
Don’t forget to remind your child that these same techniques apply whether you are the victim or if you see someone else being bullied!