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What is bullying? (A parent's guide to identification)

Hello Parents,

From the 16 years experience we have in educating children, and from working closely with teachers in our community I can tell you the number one educator in your child’s life is you, the parents. While we teach your child the physical techniques and the social and emotional strength to defend themselves, that isn’t enough to make them safer or stop bullying. We have a responsibility to also educate you and our community, so together we can put a stop to this.

We are approached on a weekly, if not daily by folks sharing stories of behaviour towards their children that is unsettling to say the least, and some that are just unspeakably cruel. As parents we only see a small percentage of what happens in our children’s daily social interactions at school and in the neighbourhood, and need to be careful to fully understand what is really happening in their social interactions. Simply put, we need the ability to put these interactions into proper context, and here’s why.....Some behaviours require immediate and swift intervention by adults or teachers, and some behaviour may be rude or mean, but not every behaviour, or act, can be termed as bullying. There are other forms of behaviour that can easily be misidentified and reported as bullying.

Here are a few behaviours common on the playground, in the classroom, and neighbourhood you may recognize, along with their definitions that often times are misidentified as bullying.

Rudeness: Typically there is no intent to hurt with rudeness. Unintentionally saying or doing something that hurts someone else. Very common especially in the early stages of development. From a child’s perspective rudeness might look more like burping in someone's face, jumping ahead in line, bragging about achieving the highest grade or even throwing a crushed up pile of leaves in someone's face. On their own, any of these behaviours could appear as elements of bullying, but when looked at in context, incidents of rudeness are usually spontaneous, unplanned inconsideration, based on thoughtlessness, poor manners or narcissism.

Mean: Purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone once (or maybe twice max). The main distinction between "rude" and "mean" behaviour has to do with intention. While rudeness is often unintentional, mean behaviour very much aims to hurt or depreciate someone. Kids are mean to each other when they criticize clothing, appearance, intelligence, coolness or just about anything else they can find to denigrate. Meanness also sounds like words spoken in anger ie; impulsive cruelty that is often regretted in short order. Very often, mean behaviour in kids is motivated by an inability to control their emotions, angry feelings and/or the misguided goal of propping themselves up in comparison to the person they are putting down.

Commonly, meanness in kids sounds an awful lot like:

• "You are so fat/ugly/stupid."

• "I hate you!"

• "Are you seriously wearing that sweater again? Didn't you just wear it, like, last week? Get a life."

Make no mistake; mean behaviour can wound deeply, and adults can make a huge difference in the lives of young people when they hold kids accountable for being mean. Yet, meanness is different from bullying in important ways that should be understood and differentiated when it comes to intervention.

Bullying: Intentional aggressive behaviour, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power. (Usually with the intention to subjugate). Experts agree that bullying entails three key elements: an intent to harm, a power imbalance and repeated acts or threats of aggressive behaviour. Saying or do something intentionally hurtful to others repeatedly over time, with no sense of regret or remorse, with the intention to control or subjugate, even when their targets show/ express their hurt or tell the aggressors to stop is classic Bullying. Being able to properly distinguish between behaviour that is rude, behaviour that is mean and behaviour that is characteristic of bullying is an important first step.

Bullying may be physical, verbal, and relational and/or carried out via technology:

Physical aggression: This was once the gold standard of bullying. Remember the neighbourhood bully or school yard bully that would target and prey on certain kids. This kind of bullying is becoming increasingly rare but includes hitting, punching, kicking, spitting, tripping, hair pulling, slamming a child into a locker and a range of other behaviours that involve any physical aggression. This type of behaviour is quite common in the early years of development due to social immaturity, but unless done repeatedly and with intention to control may not be considered bullying? Verbal aggression: This is the teasing or prodding our parents used to advise us to "just ignore." We now know that despite the old adage, "Sticks and stones" Words and threats can, indeed, hurt and can even cause profound, lasting harm. This is why building mental toughness in our children through social and emotional learning is so important to our child's well being.