By Shaun Ditty, LPC
First let me say welcome to our first blog post. I have encountered over the years more than a few parents grappling with the worry, is my kid being bullied or is this just mean behavior? Or perhaps they came home and shared another child “is a bully.” It is important to make this distinction not only for understanding the situation but also for guiding our responses effectively.
So how do we decide between the two? Mean behavior typically involves isolated incidents, like a harsh comment or being excluded from a game. While undoubtedly hurtful, these actions usually lack a pattern of persistent aggression. Bullying in contrast is marked by its repetitive nature and an evident power imbalance. It can happen in a variety of ways such as physical, verbal, or social aggression. Bullying also involves consistent targeting of the same individual. Misusing the term ‘bullying’ for minor incidents can diminish the gravity of more serious cases. Accurate identification is crucial for providing appropriate support and ensuring that children fully understand the severity of bullying, differentiating it from less serious incidents.
Bullying needs intervention from adults. Which is why choosing our words and reactions carefully is so important. When we label and treat all negative interactions as bullying it takes away the opportunity for children to learn essential life lessons and build social skills. These experiences are a key part of developing resilience, empathy, and self-advocacy skills. It’s crucial for parents and educators to avoid stepping in to soon or mislabeling situations, as this can hinder a child’s ability to independently navigate social dynamics moving forward. Our goal should be to guide children in understanding their emotions and thinking critically about solutions. This helps to nurture self-confidence as well as emotional intelligence.
While protecting children is a natural instinct, allowing them to manage minor social conflicts is equally important. It helps them learn assertive communication, recognize when to seek help, and understand the importance of personal boundaries. These skills are essential in developing emotional intelligence and resilience. This means once we have determined that it is not a bullying situation that needs adult intervention our goal is to shift our approach. We want our children to walk away from the conversation feeling heard and supported, not with a plan of action or a problem solved.
As parents, and caregiver’s, our role is to guide children through these experiences, equipping them with the necessary tools for resilience, empathy, and problem-solving. Our goal is not only to protect them but also prepare them. So they can face and overcome the many challenges life has to offer.
To watch Shaun’s video on this topic and more, check out our YouTube Channel
- Swearer, S. M., & Espelage, D. L. (2004). Bullying in American schools: A social-ecological perspective on prevention and intervention.
- Swearer, S. (2011). Bullying prevention and intervention: Realistic strategies for schools (The Guilford Practical Intervention in the Schools Series).
- Borba, M. (2016). UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World.