A few weeks ago I declared the word bullying to be broken. I asked for a ban. This was naive, naturally. One problem with cutting the use of the word is that everyone who wants to read about bullying is googling “bully”. If I don’t use the word no-one will read what I have to say.
So I’ve come up with a compromise. I’m going to keep using it, but I would like to provide another reason to carefully consider your use of it.
The bully label is a problem. If a child is labeled a bully they will be ostracized. Pushed away from the social circle, they’re likely to want to get back in. Often the only way they know how to do that is more of the same behaviour. Catch 22.
The actions and behaviours are what we need to target, not the individuals. Rather than saying “you’re a bully” we should be saying “what are you trying to achieve with this behaviour?” Identify the goals and then suggest alternatives. Point out the negative repercussions of the behaviour that the child may not be aware of – labeling, social drawbacks, legal issues.
Parents need to stop labeling bullies as well. When adults get together we like to gossip. Parents are no different and they’re keen to find out who’s who in their kids’ schools. It’s clear that parents’ use of language has an effect on their children. In describing a kid as a bully, they are giving the green light for their kids to exclude the “bully” from social activity.