Having taught high school for many years, I have seen how brutal kids can be. I also experienced bullying myself as a gangly, braces-wearing, awkward fourteen-year-old. As my sons entered school this year, I had my bully-dar on high alert for the signs of feeling that pain.
To prepare myself for this stage, I sought help through a book called The Essential Guide to Bullying Prevention and Intervention by Cindy Miller and Cynthia Lowen. I also had the privilege of interviewing one of the authors, Cindy Miller.
This book accomplishes what its title intends: it is a comprehensive guide on dealing with bullies, how to know if your child is being bullied, and how to grow a bully. There is a good focus on how relationship break-downs contribute to bullying behaviour. As I've said, "bullies don't know how to stop their mad from turning into mean."
As a parenting educator, I wanted to explore with Miller what it was about the relationship between a parent and child that might increase a child's chance of hurting another. Our conversation headed immediately to the topic of frustration tolerance. Miller found that bullies often do not have the ability to tolerate the anxiety of waiting or disappointment. She said, "the bully has a problem—this is how they seek to solve it." The child feels anger because something didn't go well or they have been let down, and don't have the skills to "use their words."
Miller said it was very important to consider how, as parents, we speak to people who are unkind, and how we treat other people in front of our children. Long before a child gets on Facebook, a family needs to teach children how to handle tough conversations and communicate that to their children. In the end, "Facebook is really just an extension of how we communicate socially."
I was curious if today's bullying is more relentless than the sticks and stones type of assault that happened in our youth. Author Cindy Miller felt it could have a more severe impact as bullying of today is a "360 degree assault on a human being." Because of this, Miller says parents are feeling powerless because they can't stop everything—the cyber posts, texts, school comments. Miller encourages parents to help the child resist looking at any on-line posts. She also advises parents to not to give up because they can make a bigger impact than they realize—the steps to helping a child are clearly outlined in the book.
Trying to alleviate my panic at the thought of one of my children experiencing the type of bullying we have seen in the media, I asked Miller what we really need to know about the signs that bullying is happening. She was quick to say that it is critical to know what to look for in general like changes in mood and behaviour, but it is more important to know what our own child's distress signals are. As parents, we need to be acutely attuned to our children so that we can pick up the slightest change from their normal baseline.
Miller went on to explain that once we suspect bullying is happening, it is important to take time to digest this news. There is very helpful information in the book to help parents sit down, breathe, and think about their next steps. Many children try to avoid showing signs of trouble because they are afraid of what the bully will do to them if the situation is discovered or if their parents/teachers intervene. This book can help parents ensure they do not make the situation worse.
My favourite paragraph of the book is "Encouraging Courage" within the Prevention section. To conclude, I will leave you with this, "Fear isn't only necessary for survival; it's a gift that can be utilized to develop courage as well as self-confidence and competence. Learning to harness, face and conquer fears will enable your child to have a more exciting, enjoyable, and rewarding life." (Pg 80)
*Note; Co-author Cynthia Lowen is also the producer for the film BULLY which I highly recommend seeing.