The primary objective of human beings is to belong. A sense of belonging creates a feeling of being loved and valued, a feeling of acceptance. Children, most especially, need to feel loved, valued and accepted firstly within their family units and then in their extended communities. Dr Tracey Stewart from Headwise is our expert on developmental psychology. She tells us how to handle it if your child is being bullied - or is the bully.
Children who are behaving inappropriately socially are manifesting much more than their own emotional and mental hang-ups. Their problems are symbolic of a community which is functioning inappropriately. A community which lacks the understanding to actively “hear” what these children are trying to tell us. Spending most of their time at school with educators who have the ability to demonstrate empathy will provide misbehaving children with their basic needs even if they are not getting it in the familial unit. To effectively demonstrate empathy with children who are bullying and those who are being bullied we must remember that this behaviour is a mistaken means of expressing a need to feel loved, valued and accepted. Both categories – the bullies and the bullied - demonstrate inappropriate social behaviour as a result of feelings of inadequacy, pent-up frustration and often immense anger. All of this mistaken behaviour is directly linked to a non-existent or underdeveloped sense of belonging and value.
We know that bullies deliberately cause misery and disruption to the learning and social progress of their targets so they can attract attention to themselves. Mistakenly, they believe that this attention will provide them with a sense of belonging. We can then see that by approaching the bully in a positive way, by getting in touch with their need to feel loved and valued rather than rejected, we can create self- awareness and enable the basic skills needed to change behaviour.
The same applies to the bullied - in reverse. It is important to remember that children who use aggression and violence to achieve their objectives grow up to be adults who use aggression and violence to resolve conflicts and achieve their objectives. This behaviour can be seen in the workplace at all levels and in society as a whole. Schools that do not take steps to control bullying behaviour face the negative consequences of having general discipline problems and failure in their academic mission. Of 2,000 schools surveyed by UNISA in 2010 46% do not take steps towards bullying prevention. For the past 10 years, child on child violence has been on the increase. Physical and verbal abuse and cyber harassment have driven many victims to substance abuse or attempted or committed suicide.
The common belief is that a single programme can change bullying and prevent violence. This is completely off the mark. There is no overall programme for success or failure because everyone is responsible in their own way to promote a better community and therefore better citizens and a stronger society. This comes with practice, learning and experience. We should as adults, be a good example of kindness and leadership. Your children learn a lot about power relationships from observing you. Teaching kids at every developmental level how to be inclusive leaders by encouraging belonging, self-acceptance and promoting self worth will encourage pro-social activities which foster caring, co-operation, respect, tolerance, courtesy and dignity.
When you get angry you have a great opportunity to model effective communication techniques with your children. Don’t blow it by blowing your top! Any time you speak to another person in a mean or abusive way, you’re teaching your child that bullying is ok. Unless the concepts of rewarding pro-social behaviour are managed from the top-down, these concepts lose face to the more critical and outdated punishment-oriented modes of managing behavior and indirectly support non-acceptance and subsequently, bullying.
Find Dr Tracey at Headwise Developments