How can I help my child deal with bullying and express his feelings?


Question

A taller boy in my son’s class tends to threaten other boys so they listen to him. This came to light only recently to my attention, after much probing because I felt that my son has been very aggressive at home (with his parents and sister) for quite some time for no obvious reasons. How can I explain in a child’s language that bullying should not be tolerated under any circumstances? That he needs to stand his ground to protect his integrity instead of being a doormat and accepting the behaviour out of fear. What can he do to remove this negativity caused by the external environment to find inner peace within? Is it helpful for me to engage with the other boy’s parents to let them know what is going on? If my son behaved inappropriately, I would want to know but am not sure if other parents feel that way too. What is the best approach?


Also, what has come up is that my son is similar to many other boys and has trouble sharing what is affecting him on a deeper level. He shares what is going on in school on a superficial level but he does not share if something is troubling him. So maybe my other question would be how to create a safe space where he can express his emotions in a less aggressive manner? Maybe encourage him to talk to his elder sister more? Sometimes he likes talking to her when he is upset with his parents :)


-D.G., Switzerland



Answer


Dear D.G.,


I'm impressed with the questions you are asking because they show expansive and compassionate thinking. From these questions it is obvious your family is working consciously on creating a supportive and peaceful home environment and your children have your attentive ear. Here are a few suggestions concerning the areas you bring up.


In EFL philosophy, your son is in the midst of his "feeling" years. Even if he is active in his body, strong in his will or intellect, the years between 6 and 12 are steeped in feeling and the heart is tender. Finding ways to express difficult or confusing feelings and feelings that we may consider "negative", such as anger, jealousy or fear is a challenge.

Modeling ways to handle those feelings with control and awareness is important. If he never sees you dealing with emotional upsets in a healthy way, he may think you don't have those feelings, or you don't know how to deal with them either. Show him that you need quiet time or exercise or calm music to help you get centered and relaxed again. Do some deep breathing together or share a visualization that helps you so he knows everyone has to find ways to work with emotions. Don't put your adult concerns on him, but allow him to see you making choices that help dissipate, and redirect emotional energy constructively.


Plan sharing time - don't just expect it will happen. I had a friend who was raising her son alone and their sharing time was at bedtime. He was allowed to sit in her room in the dark and talk to her about anything. The quiet darkness helped him share things that were uncomfortable to bring up in the cold light of day. They kept this practice well into his teen years. You might set up "rules" such as you each take a turn sharing one fun thing about your day and one unfun thing. Then you might share ideas about how to avoid that unfun thing in the future, or how to change your response to it, since unfun things are part of life. Keep an attitude of complete acceptance - even about mistakes. It's not a time for correction, it's a time of sharing and problem solving.

Look for role models who he can look to for how to behave with compassion, with integrity, with strength and courage. Tell stories about people you know who you admire for these qualities. True stories have strong impact, but fictional characters, stories in books and on TV can also be inspiring. They don't have to be dramatic, just real situations that were handled peacefully.

When school starts again, I would encourage you to connect with all the families in his class, if possible. Get to know the other children and their parents and start talking before there is a problem. When issues come up, it will be easier to talk with others as friends and find solutions together. Help your son to see the good qualities that are within everyone and to recognize the different ways everyone struggles. Help him to feel connected and help find ways to nurture connections and a sense of mutual support. You might find a way to help him communicate if a difficult situation arises that he feels overwhelmed by, or unable to handle. Perhaps even rehearse asking for help. If he has a plan it may take away some of the fear. He knows he can go to an adult and say, "I'm stuck and I don't know what to do about this thing that is happening." (or whatever words you both feel are appropriate) Bullying comes in many forms and be sure to ask about how the school handles this issue and who to talk with about it if it arises. Bullies often do not have role models or supportive environments. Being physically bigger often brings feelings of isolation and being "different". Trying to relate to every child with compassion and kindness while also learning to stand strong is a huge challenge, even for adults. I feel the first and most important thing is to face the challenge together - children need to know they are not alone. The other side of that is to allow him space to work on it without taking over. A tricky balance! You are absolutely right to consider all these layers of communication, support, reaching out to the other family, handling emotions, and finding solutions that will provide long term strength. I wish you and your family all love and light,

Lorna