I decided to bless you with two posts since I seriously slacked lately. My energy levels have been a little all over the map. Now that I am feeling better, I have been taking advantage of this and doing things after work- but then over doing it and having 0 energy the next day. Last night I had a girls night that we planned months ago, which was fantastic and much needed but a prime example. I am DEAD today. Like motivation is 0 and my body actually physically aches. I almost would have preferred a hangover because a little hydration and Tylenol usually does the trick. Today its been heating pads, pain killers, essential oils, water, naps, ANYTHING. But my body and mind are just zilch.
Anyways, this blog post is a little different from the usual, but just as important. It was triggered by a recent story in the news regarding a 10 year old boy named Seven, who committed suicide due to bullying.
How does this relate to IBD? He had a colostomy bag. In fact he underwent 26 surgeries related to his bowel disorder. He was only 10 people. I can’t imagine the hard life this kid already had medically. To add to this, is just absolutely devastating. According to news stories he had been bullied quite frequently. Another student at his school recalled a time where he was choked and called racial slurs, which resulted in him having to go to the emerg to get a CT scan. Students began labelling him a snitch as his mother was huge in urging him to advocate for himself in response to the bullying.
Disabilities, invisible or not, are so hard to process and go through both medically and emotionally. There are many patients who have gone through forms of trauma as a result of their medical journey, and will suffer from PTSD. Mental health is greatly impacted and unfortunately with many chronic illnesses, healing is not linear as the disease can come back. Even the journey to getting into remission, from my own experience, is far from linear and far from easy. As an adult who can inform myself and be an advocate for myself, I have struggled. I can only imagine what this must have been like as a child.
Bullying is something that has gone on for many generations. When I was growing up it was there, when my parents were growing up it was there, and it’s still here. Its methods and modes have changed, but the principles for the most part have stayed the same. We can’t necessarily stop it, but we can prevent it and inform our kids how to be better. As someone who works in a school system in behaviour therapy, this is something that I am very passionate about and something I have a lot of experience in.
So parents and caregivers, here is my proposal: teach your kids.
There are many different reasons why someone may be a bully, often times adults pointing to insecurities. But the big picture is that often times it’s simply that our kids don’t know any better. They LITERALLY don’t understand that it is not acceptable. A lot of parents I work with get baffled by this idea, and I’m not sure why? If no one has ever told them it is not okay, why would they know any better? How did we learn? I personally learnt quickly because my parents had a 0 tolerance for it. In addition, we had school presentations and media everywhere was plastered with anti-bullying slogans and commercials (are those still a thing?). Programs like D.A.R.E, although not always shown in research to be effective, did promote an environment where we talked about it.
Bullying is a learned behaviour. They most likely have seen it somewhere (in person, through social media, etc.) and decide to try for themselves, and hey if it works, if they get what they want in that situation and no one told them “no”, they why wouldn’t they try again? Kids are impulsive by nature. The last part of our brain to develop is the pre-frontal cortex (our information processing brain responsible for judgement, consequential thinking, rationality, etc), which research points does not fully mature until the age of 25. Teens still have to make decision- but if the pre-frontal cortex is not fully developed, then they are left to rely on their amygdala to help with decisions- the emotional brain. This is why we often see teens making decisions based more on emotions rather than thought processing.
So we need to be our kids pre-frontal cortex. We need to help them understand the impact of their choices and decisions. Teach them problem solving. Because they physically do not have the systems required to fully engage in this. So how can we help?
- Take bullying seriously. Make it clear that there is 0 tolerance. Teach them that it is not an appropriate way to access their needs and wants. Provide consistent consequences for when bullying does take place.
- Teach them what to do instead. Take the time to explore why they are engaging in this behaviour. What need are they missing? Acceptance? Self-esteem? Lack of problem solving skills? Peer relations? Once you know this, it will be a lot easier to work together to look at appropriate ways to behave to gain access to this need. More than this, teach them abut empathy and respect. Again, these are skills that need to be taught. It is easy to tell a kid “respect is earned”, but no kid knows what this means. What does respect look like? How do you earn it? Why do you want respect? What is the difference between respect and fear? What is the difference between empathy and sympathy? A video that I think is so awesome at teaching empathy is Brene Brown: Empathy Video
- Encourage good behaviour: catch them being good and praise. Positive reinforcement is often more powerful than consequences because it tells a kid exactly what we want them to be doing. More than this it encourages positive self-esteem. We all like being told that we are on the right track, even as adults. Being a kid is tough because you make A LOT of mistakes and fumble through life. Praise is such a powerful tool. Kids crave attention, good or bad. So why not given more energy to good attention?
- Learn about their social life: this can help you understand the influences in their lives. Where are they learning this behaviour? Who are they usually around? How do these people react?
If your child is the one being bullied, this can be really hard and there is no true right way to handle this. It is going to look different across situations and dependent on the parent and child. But there are some important things to keep in mind:
- Forewarn your child: as much as we hope our children never experience bullying, we can’t guarantee it. So we can provide knowledge to our children about it, because knowledge really is power. Talk to them about what it is, what the signs are, who to talk to, and how they can handle it. It is really important to emphasize that how we react will often determine the course of actions after. Often times not engaging is the best option.
- Build their confidence: it’s important to remind them that we cannot control their actions, only our own. This is often hard for adults to even understand and practice. But it’s an important lesson to teach as often times bullying says more about the bully than the victim. Tell them this. Remind them that they did nothing wrong to provoke it, that they are not at fault, and they are not weak. Teach them about advocacy and support.
- Find allies: having a social circle is so important. There is strength in numbers. I know during my darkest times, having someone to turn to was often my biggest saving grace.
- Talk to their school: inform yourself on their policies, what is being done, and what do they teach? Do they have programs? Is it part of classes? What messaging is being presented and does this align with what you believe in? Often times we assume the school is teaching them about this, so we don’t have to- but that is not always the case! Be informed.
This is obviously something I am very passionate about. I work with kids day in and day out. My role is to be their advocate and help them be better. Yes, I deal with behaviours, but often adults forget that these “bad kids” aren’t bad kids. They are kids with behaviours that are maladaptive and they often stem from not knowing better, trauma, or just a lack of maturity. But when you create a relationship with them, become their ally, set healthy boundaries and clear expectations, and TEACH them- they can be capable of so much. We are shaping our future generation and not doing anything only perpetuates the problems we see.
My heart goes out to Seven’s family. It was senseless and I can only imagine how much pain he had felt. To feel so much pain and be so overwhelmed that taking his life seemed like the only option is so scary. Again, as an adult I struggle through my own journey and don’t always have the answers, but I was taught how to problem solve. These kids don’t have that yet and that’s why they need us!
Until next time,
3 thoughts on “Bullying: A learned behaviour”
Thank you for writing about such a thoughtful and sadly, relevant topic. We can all do our part especially by modelling good behavior to the kids in our lives. Thanks for being awesome!
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Important post. I never at the time that a lot of what I was bullied for was undiagnosed ADHD and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome – alongside family trauma and the PTSD from that and the treatment of my visibly disabled sibling – but in hindsight I can definitely see that my own medical issues contributed to severe bullying. What is happening to visibly “othered” kids in the age of social media is even worse. They can never even get a break when the school day ends, on top of all the medical stuff.
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Thank you for sharing this. It’s not easy and sometimes the world can be so cruel but awareness is so important ❤
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