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It is genuinely tough to guarantee anything about the way that you will react if bullying enters your lives through your children. So it stands to reason that it’s equally tough to guarantee that you or the school will use the right strategy at these times. Guarantees are difficult to make because of the high level of emotion that you feel when you find out that your child has either been bullied or is bullying.
The emotions that you feel in that moment can often lead you to unproductive strategies. When parents and carers find out that their child has been bullied, most articulate that the emotions they feel most powerfully are anger and fear. In those intense moments, the strategies and actions chosen are not always the best. This is because they come from a place of feeling and not from a place of thought.
Given the time to think about it, you might do something far more productive than following knee-jerk or emotional reactions. In those moments you tend to blame or you withdraw your child from the environment. Sometimes you might even disconnect from others or attack others for their perceived responsibility in the situation.
“Emotions are one of the main things that derail communication. Once people get upset at one another, rational thinking goes out of the window.”
– Christopher Voss
On the other side of the equation, if you find out that your child has been engaging in bullying behaviour, the emotion that you feel is different. It is invariably shame. Interestingly, the strategies that you choose tend to be the same as when you feel fear and anger. You blame others or you blame your child. You resort to knee-jerk reactions like withdrawing your child from the school or withdrawing from the process of repair. You disconnect with others because you’re embarrassed about what’s been going on and you potentially attack other people for their shared role and their responsibility for what has happened. You ask the child who is being bullied, their family or the school questions such as “Why didn’t you do something earlier?”
These emotional strategies leave your children at risk of not knowing how to build, not knowing how to sustain and not knowing how to repair relationships that go wrong.
Many parents and carers lament that their children are living in a disposal age, where if something’s broken, they just throw it away and replace it with a new one. It is absolutely crucial that your children avoid that attitude in their relationships. It’s important that they know how to fix them, how to patch things up and how to move on with that relationship in a way that makes sense in their lives.
Think about your emotional response, whether you’re feeling fear or shame, as a continuum from zero to ten.
Zero would mean that you have a low level of care, where you might quip, “That’s an issue for school. They can deal with it” and ten would mean that you completely lose your ability to deal with the issues calmly and rationally.
When your children come to you and tell you that there’s a problem with bullying in their lives, they are already highly emotional. They don’t need you to be equally emotional at that point. They need to know that you care and that you will not completely lose the plot.
Keep your emotions in the range of three to seven, where your level of care is significant but you also demonstrate the capacity to think straight and to be the wise mentor in the situation. In this way you can make clever choices and walk with them while this temporary problem is solved.