In the last several years of working as a School Counselor and speaking with professionals, parents and students across the United States on the topic of Bullying Prevention, one of the observations that stands out to me the most is that parents, in general, are very eager to talk about bullying while their kids, on the other hand, seem to want to do anything but talk to their parents about this topic. The more parents pry, the more kids withdraw. The more parents push, the harder kids pushback—with excuses, minimizations, abrupt subject changes, stonewalling, silence, and sometimes even complete denial that a peer problem exists.
Why is it that so many young people are so loathe to talk to their caregivers about bullying? The more I ask students this question, the more often they tell me some version of this frustrated rationale:
“If I tell my parents, they are going to make a big deal out of it and tell everyone what’s happening to me.”
“If I tell my parents, they’ll rush into school to try to meet with the Principal, which will definitely make things way worse for me.”
What can parents, caregivers, educators, and other trustworthy adults do to help a young person feel safe enough to confide in them about a bullying situation? How can you make your child feel supported—instead of embarrassed or endangered—enough to tell you when they really need your help?
When I ask school-aged kids how they would like their parents to respond when they tell them about a bullying situation, again the responses are nearly universal. Most commonly, kids tell me, “I just wish they’d listen.” This is frequently followed by, “I wish they’d give me some advice but let me try to handle it on my own first.”
What follows are five guidelines for parents and professionals on how to listen well and respond in helpful ways when a young person reports an incident of bullying:
1. Stay Calm
First and foremost, when a young person takes the leap of faith to talk to you about a bullying situation, stay calm. Avoid freaking out. The dynamics they describe may be very run-of-the-mill or they may be entirely appalling, but either way, your role as a helpful adult is to listen well and respond as if the situation is completely manageable. The steadfastness of your response will go a long way in shaping the child’s attitude as the two of you begin to move forward toward solutions.
To read the remaining five guidelines about how to listen well to young people so that they will talk honestly about bullying, please visit the original posting at Psychology Today.
“The Failing First Line of Defense” is a fantastic, important, insightful article by Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic that shines a light on the gap in mental health training traditionally offered to classroom teachers–who are so often a student’s first line of defense when it comes to revealing mental health issues.
Certification in the skills of LSCI is an excellent way to bridge the gap and help educators gain understanding of and competence in brain-based, trauma-informed, mental-health intervention strategies. Find out more at www.lsci.org or email email@example.com to plan training for your staff.
Through my work as a child and adolescent therapist and a school counselor, I have seen how destructive of a force anger can be—both when it is expressed in uncontrolled, aggressive ways, but also when it is acted out in highly controlled but hidden behaviors, such as passive-aggression. Passive aggressive behavior as a deliberate but covert way of expressing feelings of anger (Long, Long & Whitson, 2009) and is most often motivated by a person’s fear of expressing anger directly. The passive-aggressive person believes life will only get worse if other people know of his anger, so he expresses his feelings indirectly, using a variety of behaviors to subtly “get back” at another person. While anger itself is generally experienced as an uncomfortable emotion, the passive-aggressive person derives genuine pleasure out of frustrating others, hence our label of the behavior as “the angry smile.”
If your interactions with a child, a parent, a teacher, a student, a spouse, a co-worker, a boss, or even an online acquaintance leave you feeling like you have been on an emotional roller coaster, chances are good you may be dealing with a passive aggressive person. Some of the most common red flags of this behavior include things like:
- Withdrawing and sulking, rather than stating opinions or needs.
- Using words like “Fine” and “Whatever” to shut down a discussion.
- Procrastinating or carrying out tasks inefﬁciently
- Giving lip service to doing things differently in the future, while knowing they don’t plan to change their behavior.
The ultimate red flag is that passive-aggressive people cause others to eventually blow up and in a very real sense, act out the anger that the passive-aggressive person had been silently harboring.
There are many reasons why people choose to sugarcoat their anger but what most passive-aggressive people have in common is that they grew up with developmental conditions that made hidden expression of anger feel like their only tenable choice. For the purposes of this post, let me lay out two distinctions:
- First, we know that some young people are raised in families where they know they will be met with harsh physical punishment or retribution if they express dissatisfaction or unhappiness. Kids walk on eggshells around angry, aggressive, authoritarian adults, and learn quickly that their only safe option is to hide their true feelings.
- At a different extreme, there are kids who grow up in families in which appearances means everything. The normal, human emotion of anger must be subordinated to family facades. In this type of outwardly perfect family, kids are socialized to believe that anger = bad and that good kids never show anger.
In both type of upbringings, kids learn that open, honest, direct expression of anger would be unacceptable. And yet these feelings don’t just disappear. Rather, they tend to re-surface through patterned, but covert misbehaviors such as carrying out chores incorrectly or pretending not to hear their name when they are called—things that create minor but chronic frustration for the authority figures in their lives.
There are five distinct and increasingly pathological levels of passive aggressive behavior, ranging from the everyday to the truly troublesome. Learning to readily recognize the behavior at any level is your first step toward avoiding being drawn into a passive-aggressive conflict cycle—a power struggle with no winners.
To learn more about the 5 levels of passive aggressive behavior, please read the remainder of this post on its original site on Psychology Today:
Here’s the Sunday Strategy for the week; all around, it’s one of my favorites because it hits at the heart of some of the most important things that I believe, namely:
1. It’s the little things we do with kids on a regular basis that make the most difference. Policies, procedures, and plans (behavioral, lesson, etc) are great…but the little things make the biggest impact.
3. Positive relationships are everything.
Have a great week, all!
8 Keys to End Bullying: Strategies for Parents and Schools was featured at the Trauma Summit at California Lutheran University, co-sponsored by Casa Pacifica. Get your copy today on amazon.com and don’t forget to PRE-ORDER the brand new 8 Keys to End Bullying Activity Program for Kids & Tweens.
I hope you’ve had a fantastic weekend!
SUNDAY STRATEGY: I’m a huge proponent of making time to build class culture and a sense of community among students. Here’s a great, 5-minute way to make community-building as much a part of your routine as taking attendance. If you try this out for a few days/weeks/rest of the year, please keep me posted on some of the questions you come up with–and the kids of outcomes you notice!
“Because learning is fundamentally a social and emotional experience, achieving a sense of WE is critical before students fully engage in classroom activities.”
For more information on how to confront and change passive aggressive behavior at home, in school and in the workplace, please check out The Angry Smile text or register for our online training at https://www.lsci.org/angry-smile-online