It is not at all uncommon for parents to be unaware that their child is being bullied.
Children keep quiet about it because they don’t want to upset us, or perhaps they are worried that we will make the problem worse.
If your normally placid child becomes aggressive towards siblings or starts isolating and withdrawing you should consider the possibility that they might be having problems with bullying.
In this blog you will discover why it isn’t the bullying as such that causes the damage and what you can do to support your child if they are being bullied.
BULLYING IS PART OF THE HUMAN CONDITION
Once upon a time we lived in small and isolated communities of circa one hundred people surrounded by impenetrable forests.
We were totally dependent on each other for survival and being rejected by the village meant certain death.
Because of this we are hard-wired to avoid rejection which manifests in a desire to be at the centre of whatever community we belong to.
If you find yourself on the margins of a grouping, you will try to get included in various ways. You may start by conforming to the group norm (dressing and speaking similarly). But if that doesn’t work, you will literally or metaphorically step on one of your peers to propel yourself further towards the centre.
This is a survival strategy and there are no morals involved. It doesn’t really matter what means are used to get to the centre: words or violence can achieve the same result.
Whether a person gets their elbows out and shoves people out of the way to get ahead or they use clever put-downs and jibes, the result is the same:
THEY GAIN STATUS
You will often see this clearly in primary school. The arrival of a new child will inevitably change established friendship groups as the newly arrived child muscles in. There can be ructions throughout a whole year group as this happens.
Here’s the thing: The person trying to get to the centre is focused entirely on getting themselves safely further inside the group. They aren’t paying much attention to the person whose feelings/body they are stepping on in the process. From their perspective it is kind of impersonal. They have just used a stepping stone to satisfy their own need for safety.
The person being stepped on, however, tends to give the event a whole lot of meaning about themselves.
THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME
‘C’ came to me because she was experiencing awful panic attacks in lessons in her new 6th form. It turned out that the panic attacks had their roots in events that happened midway through year 11 where she was ‘sent to Coventry’ very suddenly and without knowing why.
Not understanding what she had done to deserve the rejection and isolation was for ‘C’ the worst aspect because she was powerless to make amends or change her ways.
Her previously large friendship group literally and metaphorically turned their back on her from one day to the next and no one would tell her what she had done wrong.
She survived the rest of the year by making friends with a few new people and then changed schools.
Our work together was centred around changing the belief that there was something desperately wrong with ‘C’ as well as treating the shock of being suddenly rejected and excluded and feeling powerless.
‘M’ was suddenly excluded in year 5 at primary school when a new arrival ‘shoved’ him out of the way and ‘took’ his existing group of friends.
‘M’ came to me because he was constantly in trouble with his teachers for being disruptive in class.
‘M’ made the year 5 incident mean that ‘I’m not likeable’. Instinctively he knows that you cannot survive in isolation and has worked out that he can make his peers laugh by being cheeky. It gets him in trouble with teachers, but for him that is a price worth paying to feel included and accepted in the peer group.
The meaning we give a random act of being stepped on or shoved out of the way is always based on comparison with others.
- I am not good enough
- I am weak
- There’s something wrong with me
- I’m somehow not likeable or acceptable
Another aspect is that a trauma like this will always try and get attention so it can be healed. The way it gets attention is by calling to itself similar incidences so that we can learn a more appropriate response and thereby heal the original wound.
This is why some children become such easy targets and attract bullying incidence after bullying incidence until it can be hard to remember the original event. Perhaps the child has moved schools many times and the same scenario plays out each time.
In addition, a child will perhaps try other strategies to make sure they belong and can’t be rejected. They may take care of weaker members of the group, act the class clown or be super needy and try too hard to be liked.
But even if it’s hard to pinpoint, there will always be a first time and it will keep repeating throughout life, even into adulthood – workplace bullying is most definitely a thing.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP
If you notice your child becoming either more anxious or aggressive and perhaps isolating themselves from you or their friends, take it seriously and don’t let them fob you off with an ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
Most children, definitely older children and pretty much all teenagers, know that adults are powerless to help them with bullying and that ‘telling’ will only add insult to injury.
The most important thing is to understand what they have made the bullying mean about themselves. The actual bullying doesn’t matter so much, it is the meaning we give it that does the damage. Once you have helped them understand what they have made it mean about themselves you can then address the ‘truth’ of that and find evidence to counter it.
TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE
I have worked with adults in their 60s still scarred by what they made childhood bullying mean about themselves. Their lifetime has been shaped by the wrong meaning given to a random incident. That is such a waste of life and is one of the main reasons I do my job: freeing someone up from believing they are a weak coward or that there is something shameful and awful about them is very rewarding.
I have helped many, many children and teenagers find their voice and stop the bullying. Once they find their voice they use it to prevent ‘take over’ bids in the moral-free zone of the average peer community, maintaining their status and safe position.
If you think your child needs some help finding their voice and you would like to know more about my work, sign up for a WayForward Consultation for a no obligation exploration of their situation.
OVER TO YOU
What are your experiences of bullying? For yourself or for your child? Have I over- simplified the issue of bullying?
Are penguins nicer than us? They huddle all through the Antarctic winter doing a constant shuffle which means they take it in turns to be on the outside of the group.
Do please share your insights and parental wisdom in the box below
PS: PASS IT ON
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