Helping Your Child Understanding the Difference Between Bullying and Other Unkind Behavior
Did you know that October is National Bullying Prevention Month? Helping children recognize and respond to bullying behavior is an important social and emotional skill. But what if the behavior they are witnessing or experiencing isn't bullying? While St. B’s takes bullying accusations very seriously, bullying is a word that often gets used when a child has an undesirable or unkind interaction with another peer. Bullying has a very specific meaning and overuse of the word can actually cause more harm than good for children. It is important to make sure children understand what constitutes bullying in order for them to use it appropriately when uncomfortable or unsafe circumstances arise.
So, what is bullying?
While definitions of bullying can vary, most have these 3 common themes:
Aggressive behavior: behavior that is intended to harm, hurt, or humiliate another person either emotionally or physically.
Repeated behavior: The behavior is repeated or has the potential to be repeated over time
Power imbalance: The person who is doing the bullying uses their power, making it difficult for the other person(s) to stop the behavior. Power may include physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
Bullying can take on many different forms. Listed below are the four main types of bullying behaviors:
1) Verbal: saying or writing mean things.
Inappropriate sexual comments
Threatening to cause harm
2) Relational: hurting someone's reputation or relationships
Leaving someone out on purpose
Telling other children not to be friends with someone
Spreading rumors about someone
Embarrassing someone in public
3) Physical: hurting a person's body or possessions
Taking or breaking someone’s things
Making mean or rude hand gestures
4) Cyber: using electronic communication to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target a person.
sending mean or threatening messages through text, email or social media
posting videos or pictures of another person without their permission with the intent to humiliate them
creating a fake profile and using it to embarrass a person
creating a website with the intent to insult or embarrass another person.
Check out this cyberbullying resource for parents.
How can I help my child ?
If your child is involved in a bullying situation, whether actively or passively, here are some articles that I encourage you to read. They include ways to help your child if they are being bullied, witness bullying, or the one doing the bullying.
If you are ever concerned that your child may be involved in bullying, please reach out to your child's teacher, Chaplain Porter-Cade, Mrs. Shamanski, or Leah Molloy, the school counselor.
What makes bullying different from other unkind behaviors?
Being the recipient of unkind behavior, doesn't feel good, and can lead to strong emotions for both children and parents. But not all unkind behavior should be labeled as bullying. Bullying is tragically real, with devastating consequences in both the short- and long-term. When bullying happens it is critical that it be addressed immediately and effectively. Almost always, it would involve intervention on the part of parents, school administration, and school counselors.
Calling someone a name or pushing someone once, being rude or having an argument with someone is not bullying. Of course, these behaviors should be addressed nor should be accepted but may have different consequences and interventions, which is why the distinction is critical.
Why Overusing the Word Bullying is Not Helpful
The word "bullying" to describe a negative interaction between peers is often overused in today's society. It is important to know why using this word out of context can actually cause more harm than good, especially for children who are truly being bullied on a regular basis.
Overuse of the word can:
desensitize us from real bullying, which is serious and should not be overshadowed
create a world of victims, which teaches kids that they can't stand up or advocate for themselves
make it harder for children to recognize the signs that someone's in real trouble and needs immediate help.
labeling someone as a "bully" or "victim" can be harmful to kids. In her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck notes that labels can limit how children see themselves and how other children and adults see them.
If It's not bullying, what is it?
Rude behavior: Inadvertently doing or saying something that hurts someone else. Usually the intention is not to hurt someone but a result of poor manners, inconsideration, or thoughtlessness.
Example: It could look like cutting in line, bragging, or saying something like "Why did you cut your hair? It looked better when it was longer."
Mean Moment: Purposely saying or doing something to hurt someone else (happens only 1-2 times).
Example: "You aren't my friend anymore" or "You are so stupid"
Check out this resource to help your child respond to meanness.
Teasing: When someone makes fun of someone else jokingly.
Teasing can take on two different forms; playful teasing and hurtful teasing.
Playful teasing is done between friends or someone you know very well. It starts with respect and trust. The teasing is done in good nature where both people are laughing and having fun.
Example: Two friends are walking in the hallway and one trips on her shoelaces for the fourth time today. One of the friends says to the other, "Oh my goodness! I think you need to go back to kindergarten and learn to tie your shoes." The friend agrees with the comment and they both start to laugh.
Hurtful teasing (or taunting) when the teasing continues even when the other person is distressed or when the person teasing knows it is upsetting to others. This kind of teasing is often done out of anger or as a way to show off to others. It sounds like rude, sarcastic, or insulting comments about someone's appearance, social status, abilities, or identity. Hurtful teasing, if not stopped, can be considered bullying.
Example: A student who just got braces walks into the class and his friends continuously call him "brace face". Everyone in the class starts laughing. The student with the braces looks upset and tells his friends to cut it out multiple times. His friends ignore his request and tell to "quit acting like a baby."
Check out this resource for ways to help your child respond to teasing.
Peer Conflict: A disagreement or argument where both sides express their views.
Everyone in a conflict is in equal power in the relationship. While both people might be upset during a conflict, neither is seeking control or attention. The intent of a conflict is to talk it out and come to a resolution, rather than trying to make the other person feel bad about themselves. Unlike bullying, conflict is an important part of growing up.
Example: Two children are in a disagreement during recess about the rules of a game. The bicker back and forth about why they are right and the other person is wrong. The students decide to talk it out with the school counselor in order to come up with a resolution to the problem.
Check out this resource to help your child handle conflicts.
Check out these charts that explains the difference between rude behavior, mean moments, conflict, teasing, and bullying. I encourage you to use these as a discussion starter with your child.
Differentiating between bullying and other hurtful behaviors is not always easy. Often times there is a lot of gray area, and that is why getting as much information as possible is really important. I hope that you found this blog helpful.
www.adl.org (anti-defamation league)
Here at St. Benedict's, we teach students the importance of treating each other with kindness and respect. We are a "No Place for Hate" school.
As always please do not hesitate to contact me at L.firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions and/or concerns about your child's social and emotional well-being.