by Karen Bridson Wednesday April 18, 2012

Bullying is one of those hot topics in parenting and education that garner a lot of attention and focus. Every child is lectured about it, put through training programs to guard against it and awareness campaigns are launched, yet it seems all of this ‘anti-bullying’ work with kids never really makes a difference. In fact, experts say social aggression is on the rise in elementary schools.

I think part of the reason why these efforts don’t make a dent is because no one thinks their kid could ever possibly bully someone. Add to this the fact that we don’t all seem to agree on what exactly bullying is, and you have a recipe for spinning our wheels.

Developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld spoke on the topic of bullying at the KMT Child Development and Community conference this past weekend and said bullying happens when the natural and normal alpha instincts in a child are no longer tempered by caring and responsibility. He said a bully is born when a kid with an alpha complex (which on its own is healthy if married to a need to help) is too vulnerable to connect to their helping side. This happens when the bully is having trouble in his or her life, is upset and emotionally defensive. This causes the child to be unable to connect to their caring side. Neufeld said if these kids are able to find their tears and express their upsets then the bully instinct dies.

This is a much kinder take on the bully than what we’re used to hearing. It’s one that gets to the heart of the problem and I think can be very useful in ending many socially aggressive dynamics in schools. Teachers, counselors and principals need to be aware of this need to help these kids open up about what’s upsetting them. We need to have compassion. We immediately demonize these children and punishment is swift. We need to realize that these kids are in pain and we need to get to the bottom of it. When I think back on my childhood, the kids who were my bullies all had broken homes or some kind of drama unfolding behind closed doors.  Kids don’t hurt others unless they are hurting on the inside themselves. Saving the victim of the bullying should always be a priority, but let’s not forget the other child who clearly is also in pain.

It’s also critical for every one of us as parents to be really tuned into our kids and notice if they are upset about something. This needs to particularly be the case if things in our child’s life are tumultuous and we know it. We need to listen in from time to time to how our kids are talking to their friends on playdates. We need to entertain the possibility that our kids could inflict this kind of trauma on another child. Because if it’s not my child who is bullying and it’s not your child who is bullying, whose child is the bully?

Check it out and all the other talks from the conference.