I think that any parent who has been summoned to the principal’s office relives that same dread as when this happened as a child. There is usually nothing nice to be said when the upper echelons of the school are getting involved, and to be told that your darling, who seems so normal at home, is creating havoc at school is not easy to hear. Most parents, when informed that their child is being labelled a “bully” understandably go into denial.
Now let me first say that labelling your child as anything is a bad place to start. No child is a bully. Just as no child is all victim. Children, like adults, are a complex multitude of traits and behaviours, none of which define them for who they are. The quicker you stop labelling your child as this or that, the quicker you will solve even the greatest of problems. And if the teachers or other staff at your child’s school are labelling kids, well, you need to step in and set this straight. By labelling kids we define them in a certain way, create certain expectations of them, and ultimately this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as they live up (or down) to our expectations.
Bullying, like all misbehaviour, is born out of a desire to fulfil a need. We all have certain human needs that must be fulfilled in order for us to survive. These include the need for certainty, variety, love/connection and significance. Briefly, we can elaborate on them like this:
Certainty – the need to know that things will be the same, the need for routine, to know what our boundaries are and that they will stay the same, to know that we will have enough food, water, shelter etc, to know that the world we wake up in tomorrow will look like the one we woke up in today.
Variety – the need for things to be different – to have treats and breaks from routine and a bit of excitement and change, to shake things up a bit, to spice things up a bit to alleviate boredom.
Love/Connection – to feel unconditionally loved, loved no matter what we do, to be noticed and cared for and part of a group (or family), to feel understood.
Significance – to feel important, unique, and worthy of being alive, to be noticed and valued for who we are.
Everyone needs these needs in different amounts, but all of them WILL be fulfilled to some degree, whether this is in positive or destructive ways. If you really examine any misbehaviour you will find that your child is trying to fulfil one of these needs in a destructive way. Kids act up, bully, throw tantrums, lie, steal and fight in order to fulfil one or more of these needs that are not being met in positive ways.
So when you leave the headmaster’s office, take some time on your own or with your partner to figure out which of your child’s needs are not being met and how you can help them to fulfil these needs in more positive ways. This may take some time, trial and error to get right, but it will definitely be worth it. Bullying is a cry for some need to be met and every child’s cries deserve to be heard.
Image – AFP