A thought on bullying

My tiny lady is currently going through a phase which I refer to as her ‘reign of terror’. She is pushing. She is screaming. She is wild! She has taken to pushing (and kicking) her little friend and my husband worries that she is a bully. Of course I quickly defend her. She’s not a bully, it’s a normal part of childhood development. Then, late at night, fear replaces common sense. What if she becomes a bully? What if this normal toddler phase becomes something she never grows out of?

Like all parents I do not wish my child to ever be a victim of bullying but more than that I hope she never becomes a bully. I would be heartbroken if I ever thought she took pleasure in someone else’s pain. I would have failed in my job as a parent. As someone who has been a victim of adult bullying I could not bear to think of a child (or adult) suffering because of issues my daughter might have.

Of course tiny children are never really bullies, they are exploring the boundaries of their little world. To label them ‘bold’  is not only a vast over-simplification it can also be very harmful. Labels stick and even small children can become tired of always being the ‘bold’ child. In the end they figure they may as well do the crime if they are going to do the time. Toddlers, like my daughter, are testing out their limits and pushing for independence. It’s our job to ensure they are allowed do this without labelling them or putting them down. By the time children reach school age bullying can become an issue. However, these children are still very young and with patience and guidance these children can be helped to work through their issues. It is important not to merely cast them as the villain of the piece, they should be helped to understand why they have been behaving in this way. If this behaviour is not confronted than the child bully may very well become the adult bully.

Like most adults I figured bullying was something I wouldn’t have to worry about once I left school. In fact, it was something I have only ever dealt with as an adult. For an adult to find themselves in this type of situation it can be totally over-whelming. They figure there must be something wrong with them especially if more than one person is involved. It is hard to even allow the word bullying enter your mind, most people just refer to it as ‘stress’. I know, myself, I never really confronted the idea that I was ‘bullied’ until I actually left the situation. It was as if admitting to it, even if only to myself, would make it too real and much too difficult to face everyday. As adults we are expected to just get on with things but this is never the answer when someone finds themselves facing a bully. You are not the problem and you can’t take on the weight of someone else’s problems.

Bullying…it conjures up images of the archetypal overweight classroom bully with big fists and an even bigger attitude. But bullying can take many forms and the more insidious it is the more harmful it can be. Insidious bullying can leave the victim feeling completely helpless. There is no actual evidence it’s taking place, no witnesses, no proof. The bully is in control and the victim is left powerless, someone else is in charge of the steering wheel and they are just along for the ride. Far more scaring than fists are the words bullies use to subdue their victims and keep them in their place. Words have the power to damage us on a very deep level and these wounds can take many years to heal.

For my part, the situation I found myself in left me in bits and pieces. I would wake every morning with a sick stomach and an even sicker heart. Why did I remain in a situation so clearly bad for my mental health? Well I was in denial about how bad it really was. I was an adult after all, shouldn’t I be able to toughen up and stand up for myself? I put enormous pressure on myself to ‘just suck it up’. I only realised after I left the toll this pressure had taken on me. I stuck it out for far too long and I would hate for anyone else to remain in such a position because they feel they should. Nobody should stay in a situation where they feel alone and helpless.

I hope that anyone who reads this and is in this situation (or knows of anyone in a similar situation) stops for a moment and thinks. Is it worth remaining stuck in this place? Can I ask for help? What help is available to me? You wouldn’t allow your child to remain a victim of bullying so please show the same consideration for yourself.

For my part I will do all I can to teach my daughter empathy (not an easy concept for a self-centred toddler to grasp) and compassion. I would like her to be the kind of person who won’t stand by and watch while the bully wins. We have all, at some point, turned a blind eye out of fear, let’s teach our children to be stronger than that.

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