“Bullying is wrong” is taught in most school and home settings. Do not be mean to others, be nice, act appropriately. This is usually the limit of what kids learn these days about bullying, which is needed and yet not as effective as teaching kids about the roots of bullying. Teaching kids in a deeper level about feelings, how to recognize them and what to do with difficult feelings is the real work that is missing. Dividing kids into bullies and nice kids without teaching them about diversity and emotional awareness can have little positive effects on becoming responsible emotionally and mentally balanced individuals and may in fact even have negative consequences. This black and white thinking and teaching can confuse kids, as despite what most adults might believe, kids can have great insights and abilities to observe the world around and inside of them. Am i (or is this other person) a bully (mean kid) or a good (nice kid) is not the question we want kids to ask themselves. Instead we want to teach them about the real complexities and sophistications of their inner world and the one around them. We are all sophisticated beings capable of complex and many times contradicting feelings and thoughts. We all however can learn and be aware of all these impulses inside of us and learn how to navigate them in a healthy way that brings more positivity and joy to us and those around us. The more we learn about ourselves the more choices we have. We can all learn that all feelings are ok but not all behaviors. We can choose our actions if we are more aware and in charge of our feelings and impulse and not just react. We all are capable of doing “good” and doing “bad”, and we all make mistakes sometimes. This does not makes us a “bad” person but human. However it is the learning from our mistakes and choosing to act differently next time that brings growth.
Here are some holistic real ways we can address the underlying causes of bullying:
Understanding diversity in culture, neurodiversity, gender, sexuality, etc:
I have heard kids as little as kindergarteners come talk about “ the weird kid” in school in the most innocent sense not "trying" to be mean but due to lacking the right language and knowledge. Now depending on what the “weird kid” is doing, for example if he/she is just running around in a hyper way and creating chaos” it is easy to label the kid as a troublemaker and move on. The truth is though many of these kids are being labeled weird by their peers due to their differences. It could be that they are not neuro-typical kids, ones with ADHD or Autism, or just looking and acting differently due to cultural differences. The reason they are being labeled “Weird” by their peers is not that the kids are mean kids, but that they have had little to no teaching about “diversity” and “differences” and how to work with them. They not only don't have the right words, but also knowledge required to not be confused or even scared or put off by these differences. Giving the kids this knowledge of diversity and how to navigate a world of differences can reduce bullying in a real way that can last to adulthood.
Understanding emotions such as anger, fear, jealousy, joy, sadness, etc is another missing key in dealing with the bullying issues plaguing our schools these days. By giving kids real education about the universality of emotions, we teach them that we all are the same as we all have these feelings. On the other hand by teaching kids about the complex and sometimes very confusing world of their inner emotional world, we can give them tools to recognize and deal with difficult feelings. We can teach them that all feelings are ok, and yet not all behaviors are acceptable. We can teach them that the more they are able to notice their feelings and thoughts, the more they can pause and process them before reacting in a way that can be harmful to themselves and/or others. We can teach them that this is a hard ongoing task, and that they can get better at it with practice. Kids have amazing capabilities as their brains are still placid and they form new neural connections. They can learn techniques to self-regulate. I have seen first hand that even a two year old is capable of naming some of their emotions and using self-regulation techniques such a simple breathing exercises.
Finally we can teach our kids that they have power, and that they matter even as small children. We can teach them that they can be empowered to choose their reactions and that they do not have to always be at the mercy of their difficult emotions and impulses. We can teach them WHAT YOU DO AND SAY MATTERS, YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE in the world around you. And that is a lesson hopefully carried into adulthood as well.