5 Ways to Help Children Deal With Bullies Compassionately

It’s common for children and parents to present in our practice due to difficulties with a school bully. School bullies can be terrifying for a small child, who will understandably feel undermined, afraid and frustrated, who will respond by lashing out, withdrawing or submitting.

It’s always sad to have to hear about a child being hurtful to another child. Occasionally, it can make your blood boil.

However, rarely do we think “Thank you School Bully, for giving my son a chance to develop inner strength and coping skills that would serve him well in his adult years. I am sorry School Bully, still a child yourself, for the suffering you must be feeling.

No happy person is mean. Meanness is indicative of inner turmoil, be it conscious or otherwise.

I had a school bully. She, who will remain unnamed, tormented me for years and gleefully encouraged her little group of friends to join in. My homework would be ripped to shreds, verbal taunting was a daily occurrence and once I was intimidated into drinking some toilet water. I hated her so much. Years later, a mutual friend (or my ‘frenemy’) mentioned how the bully’s father had passed away. From cancer. Diagnosed around the time we were 10. Around the time she started targeting me.

My School Bully’s father was dying. She was suffering. Possibly suffering alone.

Upon realisation, I felt great sadness for that 10 year old girl, who found no other solace than to pass on her pain to another.

1. Share your experiences

It’s important to teach our little ones that everyone encounters bullies at some stage of their life. Share with them your experiences of bullying. Normalise it.

  • The Year 3 boy who demands your lunch money at recess.
  • The Year 6 girl who tells your friends not to play with you.
  • The Year 1 boy who kicks you and pretends it’s an accident.
  • The Year 8 girl who calls you ‘ugly’ and ‘stupid’.
  • The colleague who steals your ideas to pass as his own.
  • Your boss who undermines you in front of the team.
  • The man who gets out of his car to scream at you at the traffic lights.
  • The lady who pushes her way in front of you at the counter.
  • The boyfriend who jokingly insinuates that you’re not as good as his ex.
  • The friend who makes you feel bad so you would do things for her.

2. Help them understand

It’s important to teach our little ones why people bully. Discuss with them why people may do the things they do. While the behaviour is never appropriate, sometimes it can be understandable.

  • Some people bully because secretly, they feel bad about themselves. If they make others feel worse, then they feel less bad.
  • Some bullies are not well – they may be recovering from a problem with their bodies or brains. Their bodies or brains may not be helping them do what they need to do to be nice. It’s hard to be nice and patient when you’re not well.
  • Some people bully because they actually like to see someone else upset. Sometimes, this just happens and we may never find out why.
  • Some people bully because nobody has taught them how to be nice when they are upset.
  • Some people bully because they have learnt that being mean is the best way to get something they want.
  • Some people bully because deep down inside, they are so sad, so frustrated, so afraid that they need to make others feel the same.
  • Some people bully because others have bullied them again and again and again, so they feel scared and try to protect themselves by scaring others.
  • Some people bully because they have learnt to pass on the anger to someone else, like a poor game of Pass The Parcel.

3. Bully ≠ Evil

It’s important to teach our little ones that not everyone who is mean is a Bully and that not every Bully is evil.

Sometimes, people can have bad days. Small people have bad days. Big people have bad days. Bad days can make the best of us want to behave badly and do things we are sorry for later.

Some people behave badly again and again and again. These are Bullies. Bullies are mean people. Mean people are unhappy people. Which means:

Bullies = Unhappy People

Unhappy people are actually sad, deep down inside. Sadness can sometimes look like anger. We may not be able to see their sadness but it is there.

Happy people have no reason to make others feel bad.

4. Dealing with unhappy people

It’s important to teach our little ones how to deal with unhappy people. This gives them a sense of control over their situation, often times perceived as futile.

What can we do when faced with a Bully?

  • First, we say in our best Clint Eastwood Judge Judy teacher or police officer voice “You don’t have to be mean to me.” We don’t need to shout at them, cry in front of them or be mean back. This is because we are not mean to unhappy people.
  • If they keep being mean to us, we need to quietly tell someone we trust, like a favourite teacher or a parent. Hopefully, the adult in charge would be able to see a teaching opportunity for both children to learn some essential life skills, such as cause and effect of inappropriate behaviour and standing up for oneself, in addition to compassion for those who hurt and those who hurt us.
  • Bullies can make us feel angry, frustrated or scared. It’s only normal. However, we can remind ourselves that the Bully is unhappy. Unhappy people can behave in mean ways. We don’t have to join them. Instead…
  • We can help them be better people by showing the Bullies what it looks like to be a good person. “Good” does not have to mean “weak”. Good means that no matter how awful people are, we can still choose to be brave but kind. “Good” means that we do the right thing for them and for ourselves. Imagine if everyone were to treat an unhappy (and angry) person with kindness again and again and again. Soon, the unhappy person will learn that there is no need to be sad or scared or angry or mean. This is because you will teach them that the world is full of good people (who will not put up with their BS by giving in or stooping to their level).

5. Compassion in Action

It’s important to teach our little ones by showing them Compassion in Action.

Children learn by soaking up what we do instead of listening to what we tell them they should do.

We can commence our re-training by reflecting on what it means to be Compassionate to ourselves, to others who need help and to others who have hurt us.

Having self compassion means doing the kind thing for ourselves, to protect ourselves, to help ourselves. Being self compassionate means choosing to let go of ideas and feelings that cause us harm and pain in the long run.

Having compassion for those who need help can mean saying words of encouragement to someone who is struggling, offering to babysit for our friend who is recovering from an illness, volunteering at the soup kitchen, donating food/money/clothes or it could mean inviting the homeless person outside our workplace to lunch.

Having compassion for people who have hurt us can be really challenging and confronting, however, it can also be liberating. Imagine standing in front of a Bully who is yelling at you. Now put him or her on mute. Then imagine that you are standing inside a protective bubble, watching the Bully gesture aggressively at you. Then focus on breathing deeply and slowly, in order to communicate to your body that you are safe. Lastly, remind yourself that an angry person is an unhappy person.

“This is an unhappy person.”

“He/She is unhappy.”

“There is too much unhappiness in his/her life. He/she is overwhelmed.”

“I hope you will be happy one day.”

“I hope you will find peace one day.”

“I wish you well on your journey called Life.”

“I do not need to take your gift of Anger. I am returning it to you.”

“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to practise Compassion.”

“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to practise being calm.”

“I am sorry that you are Unhappy.”

“I hope you will find peace one day.”

Begin to practice Compassion and allow your children to observe your actions. Talk out loud as to allow your children to witness your thought process.

Show them how it is done.

Let’s give our children the opportunity to learn how to to be truly Compassionate – to themselves, to others in need and to others who hurt them.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, theloushe.

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