The first vision that jumps to mind when talking about bullies is a big kid pushing a much smaller kid on the playground. It is a valid perception. Many of us can distinctly remember seeing it happen in the upper elementary and middle school years. Some of us experienced it first-hand. Our kids still see the big kid pushing down a little kid. This is a universal sight all over the country, year after year. It is a form of bullying (physical assault) which is easiest to see and define.
For this reason, the many other forms of bullying are harder to detect and understand, even while they are happening. Take the relationship between and boy and his parents. Both the mother and father are telling me about how their marriage is straining under the daily effort, fighting and confusion over what to do about Jimmy’s refusal to do his homework. They have argued with the school principal and the teacher countless times over the last semester. Jimmy just laughs when he is confronted by how much work his parents have missed, only to sit in anger-inducing parent-teacher meetings.
A bully and target relationship exists when someone is exerting a lot of energy and going out of their way to try to rectify the situation, when the other person is getting his or her way. Jimmy doesn’t have to put in any work, and his parents are running in circles trying to figure out what to do. It’s the same with peer relationships on the playground or in the hallway. One kid targets another. All the bully has to do is make a snide comment to the kid who is just trying to quietly make his way to class. If this kid is taking the remark personally, then most likely it will trigger feelings of anger and embarrassment. Now it’s up to him to do something about it. He is left holding the bag. Does he fight? Does he redeem himself? Does he go on a quest to find someone who can fight the bully? Where can he go to find retreat and not have to be confronted by the bully before school lets out?
There are two parts to this type of relationship. One person simply produces the problem and walks away. The other person (s) is left trying to figure it out. And what we as a society, with our anti-bullying campaigns do, is trying to stop the problem producing behavior. We try again and again to instill reason into people who pick on others. What we don’t do is focus on helping more people to engage in problem-solving and goal-setting. Actually, a lot of teachers, administrators, parents and many other adults with their noble intentions are doing just what bullies want, which is to spend lots of energy. We’re really just teaching them how to do the same thing, but in a more clever way. As a professional counselor who works with children, teenagers and families, I see it all the time. The bully and target formula is still at play and many people are being suckered into it. It’s like watching a kid sit in the most comfortable part of the house with a remote control, turning the temperature on everyone else’s emotions and thinking. Most of the family members are going nuts, wondering how this happens.
As I talk with the child’s parents, they show to me more and more about how his behavior disrupts the family schedule and household operations. What stands out every time is a pattern of both Mom and Dad putting their own needs and goals on hold. They put all their energy towards stopping the behavior or trying to get him to do something productive. And it’s all done with pleading, yelling and endless reasoning. I ask the parents “What would you like to do?” I hear about the wish to have a relaxing dinner. I hear about their goals and aspirations. But they also tell me about what is done instead. There is much aimless doing, with no true direction. And, this is where I ask the parents again “What would you rather be doing? How do you want to be treated?” These things have to be clarified and established.
What it all comes down to, is the matter of where you want to put your energy. For parents, there is the choice of whether you want to repeat yourself ten times before taking a toy away, or just taking the toy. Using anger to get a point across is just useless work. Instead, children can do work for parents, to earn the entertainment and free time they usually take for granted. The only reasoning a child will understand is that everyone in the house has a job and disrespectful behavior only earns more boring jobs for however long that Mom and Dad see fit.
For the students at school or the young adults at work, there exist unique dreams and aspirations. Since people don’t walk around with thought bubbles above their heads, these goals are hard to see. But through encouraged dialogue, these are uncovered. The desire doesn’t die. It just gets covered up by self-doubt. Is a little kid who struggles with the traits of Asperger’s responsible for his hunger for more friends? Yes. Who else will be? Is there a professional counselor out there who can help him with this? Yes. There are thousands of them. Do you want to know to master a bully? Stay on track of building what matters and stop giving recognition to a bully’s behavior.
David W. Peace, Author of “Jungle Pack: Therapy Workbook and Journal