Bullying builds character like nuclear waste creates superheroes. It's a rare occurrence and often does much more damage than endowment.
-Zack W. Van
This week’s article is going to be very personal for me.
I was the victim of bullying at various times during my elementary and high school years.
For the purposes of this article, I’d like to focus on what happened to me during the 4th grade. There was one particular student who decided that he was going to bully me and start rumors about me. Friends of mine started believing them and stopped being my friends. This left me both hurt and suddenly alone. I became miserable and my grades started suffering. I stopped caring.
One particular incident sticks out to me. This isn’t an incident about actual bullying, but an incident which showed me how much I was suffering from the bullying.
I was having a history test. The test was a number of pages. One of the pages had 2 True/False questions. Each question was a paragraph, and the student had to say whether the paragraph was truthful or not.
On my paper, there was a printing error.
The middle of the page had no ink, meaning that I couldn’t read the paragraphs in their entirety.
I should have asked the teacher for another paper.
I should have asked the teacher to read the questions.
But the bullying took away my voice.
So I just ended up guessing. I randomly wrote F for one answer and T for the other.
I decided that it was easier to just get the questions wrong than to open myself up to ridicule and bullying.
That’s what bullying does. It destroys the child. It gets them to shut down and lose their ability to speak.
There was no logical reason for me to keep my mouth closed. But emotions were now controlling my decision making process, logic played no role in my choices.
I’ve been asked what got me out of this. Switching schools was a huge help, but it actually started prior to leaving. At one point, the principal pulled me aside, and he told me “We (your parents and I) know that you are having a tough time, just know that you can always speak with me, you can always speak with them”. That’s all I really needed to hear. I needed to know that there were people on my side, willing to help. They got involved and, whilst not fully fixed, things did subside.
I have been approached in the past to speak and write about bullying. I have a very difficult time with this for a number of reasons. Firstly, what works for the 4th graders isn’t always the best for the 11th graders, and vice versa. Additionally, while there are many good anti-bullying theories out there, very few have been proven to be successful. Every case has so many different variables, that it is hard for someone on the outside to give perfect advice.
But there is one piece of advice that I will share.
Parents need to create a “communication safe-zone” for their children.
When a parent sees that their child is struggling, that something is bothering their child and the parent has no clue what it is. The parent needs to take their child into a “communication safe-zone”.
1. Pull your child aside, away from where anyone else can hear you or them. If you do this in public, it won’t work. Nor should this ever be something done at the dinner table etc.
2. Tell your child that you love them, and you want what’s best for them
3. Tell your child that you are here for them and want to help them as best as you can
4. Tell them that you know that something is bothering them, and that they should share with you
5. Tell your child that the information that they share with you will not cause them to get into any type of trouble!!
6. Hear what your child has to say, be empathetic, do not argue with your child, and never EVER violate rule #5!
That is how you create (and maintain) a “communication safe-zone”. This is the first part of assisting your child with these types of struggles.
One final point, there are many different reasons why a child might end up shutting down (e.g. bullying, abuse, guilt, fears etc). On the one hand the parent needs to get the child to open up, but on the other hand, the parent can’t just allow the child a “free pass” if they really did something wrong.
So what should the parent do if the child tells the parent that what’s bothering them is their feelings of guilt for breaking something valuable? (e.g. Soon my sister will see that I broke her camera , or, I broke the neighbors window and I’m scared as to what’s going to happen).
In these cases, I apply the principle from the gemarra about knas and keren (fines vs. principle). Parents should tell their child that the child needs to pay for the damage. Paying for damage caused is NOT A PUNISHMENT, it is making things right.
There are many things that cause kids to shut down. Don’t assume you know why they are shutting down, and try not to mistake the effects of their suffering for the causes that are bothering them. In order to truly get to know what you child (or anyone) is suffering from, you need to have open lines of communication. Creating a “communication safe-zone” is one such way of establishing open lines of communication.
Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more. He also lectures on the topics of communication and child safety.
You can email Yisroel at email@example.com
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