When my son was the victim of bullying, I received advice from well-meaning friends that tiptoed around the inference that he was not tough enough. “He should just really let the other kid have it!” or “He needs to stand up to him!” along with other veiled “Be a man!” advice was offered. My gentle son did none of those things. It is just not his nature.
One day, I saw my son and the boy who had been bullying him hanging out and laughing together at school. When I asked my son what happened, he told me they made a pact to use words and not their hands to work out their problems. As God is my witness–it’s true. I haven’t changed a word of that statement from my then-9-year-old.
My son didn’t do what many of us are hard-wired to do. What society, history, war, reality TV, sitcoms, movies, politics and sometimes parents tell us to do. Bully back, push back, fight back as a first response. Meet aggression with aggression, thus creating a cycle of behavior that continues to diminish all of us. I know, it’s hard not to defend fighting back—after all, in the short-term it seems to work, sometimes. Sometimes it just makes it worse. I admit, I had to work through my knee-jerk emotional response of wanting to give that kid of piece of my mind! But in the long run, those aggressive responses just shame and intimidate the bully, who then moves on to gather reinforcements, bully more or be bullied himself, ad-nauseam. And so, the cycle continues.
I credit my son’s gentle nature, but I also credit his school that teaches conflict resolution to all the kids, and takes bullying behavior seriously. Positive intervention by adults, early on, is important. In addition, my son’s school gives students the tools to work through conflict and supports peer/teacher intervention quickly in cases of bullying. This link outlines the peacemaking process being used at Highlands. (It is also used at South View and is being introduced at Concord.)
This does not change the truth that kids (and adults) will still bully, and bullying will happen. But, the peacemaking process teaches that even in these inevitable moments of conflict, there is opportunity to learn and grow. My hope for a more peaceful world ahead lies with these kids, their teachers and a school district that values teaching conflict resolution skills as an essential part of a child’s education.
We could all benefit from learning more about compassion, peaceful communication and reconciliation. The language of nonviolent communication used by peacemakers teaches us that a different approach is worth a try. Thousands of years of human interaction based upon aggression hasn’t seemed to solve the problem, so why not try something new? And why not start with ourselves in our own lives? It’s usually as good a place as any to practice peacemaking.
For more information on the conflict resolution program used by my child’s school, check out these additional parent resources from Diane Gossen.