Ending Bullying Starts With the Parent-Child Relationship

bullying childhood dysfunction childhood trauma victim of bullying
Child bullying another child in school

Myth: Bullying occurs when there’s a lack of discipline

How do kids become bullies? It’s not a lack of discipline, rather a lack of heart that creates the bully, the criminal, the rapist, and the psychopath.

A common belief is that serious dysfunction in a child occurs because the parent wasn’t firm enough. They “let the child run wild, doing whatever they wanted instead of disciplining them.” In actuality, it’s often not discipline that’s lacking. What’s lacking is a connection with the child’s feelings that has been severed. The discipline that the parents used actually created more feelings of disconnection in the child.

Disconnection occurs when the parent or caregiver is so invested in their own agenda that they can’t hear what the child is trying to communicate. In turn, the child grows up feeling invalidated and unworthy. The child either stuffs down their feelings, leading to anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders, cutting or depression… or the child projects onto others the worthless feelings they have about themselves. The child feels disempowered, so they seek to disempower others. Since they were treated like an object, they objectify others.

This cannot be emphasized enough: When a child’s own voice has been either neglected or bullied into silence, the child disconnects from themselves and loses touch with the natural empathy for others. Terrible things can result for themselves and for those around them.

The horrors we hear on the news of disgruntled employees who go back and shoot their former bosses, hitting other co-workers along the way. This happens when a wound from childhood lays festering for years. As the child gets older, more and more situations arise that create similar dynamics, reopening the old wounds, building up the resentment, bitterness, and anger associated with it. All it takes is one last piece of salt to throw into the wound and then an emotional breakdown occurs that can turn deadly.

How to Prevent Kids from Becoming Victims of Bullying

The key element in preventing kids from becoming victims of bullying is to encourage assertiveness, not aggression. Bullies who sense inner strength don’t intimidate those who don’t invite engagement. They prey on fear.

Allow children’s voices to be heard, loudly and clearly within the family. A child who is assertive at home, is assertive on the playground. A confident child is less attractive to a bully.

This doesn’t mean that assertive individuals won’t be “in the wrong place at the wrong time”. However, bullying a victim of bullying will not be a pattern in their lives if they are assertive and have solid inner strength.

How much should parents and caregivers intervene when bullying occurs?

A parent has to discern the seriousness of the situation, and balance whether to interfere to protect the child or to allow the child to navigate the social situation on their own. However, often, parents overprotect kids which results in their inability to deal with relationships on their own. A parent must pay attention to the warning signs when a child is screaming out for help and jump in on their child’s behalf. Cyber bullying is a perfect example of this. Parents and caregivers must stay in close communication with their kids, paying careful attention and reading all the signs.

This is why it is vitally important to develop a connected relationship with your child when they are young! They are much more likely to come to you when they are in a troubling situation if they know they can trust and respect you! 

When kids aren’t getting their needs met, even with adult or school intervention, it’s usually because the adults have their own agenda and aren’t truly connected with the child and what their needs are.

Bullying is learned in the home.

When we respond to a behavior, such as hitting, with the same behavior–we send our kids a lethal message. “It’s okay to hit if you're an adult, but not okay if you are small and powerless.” If a child hits, it’s often because they feel disempowered. Hitting them for hitting someone only serves to further disempower them, which in turn increases their need to defend themselves, leading to further hitting for self-protection and thereby creating a bully.

Parents need to invest time and energy in redirecting the child each time the child lashes out by teaching them how to use other forms of communication. We must be aware of how we respond to the child’s frustration to help the child develop more ways to express themselves.

Instead of punishing the child, which is inevitably directed towards compliance, parents need to teach their kids to know their feelings and not be afraid to speak up if something isn’t right. Parents who are disconnected from their own true feelings and needs will fail to help their children, since they are unable to connect in a way their child needs.

The root of all bullying behavior is failure of empathy rooted in the objectification resulting from a child’s feelings being trampled on and needs being unmet.

This is not able to be repaired through interventions at school. This is a complex problem that has deep roots. Intervention needs to begin in the family at an early age. When the child is honored for the unique individual they are, they have no need to harm themselves or others.

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