By Ayah Sarhan – Certified PET Instructor & Family Relationships Coach
Why are there bullies?
Dr. Thomas Gordon’s PET core philosophy is that children don’t misbehave but instead behave in certain ways to satisfy a need that they have.
And guess what a “bully” in the kids’ area needs; could s/he be hungry, thirsty, abandoned, or being nagged onto by his parents to leave playing and go home and that s/he rarely comes to play. So underlying his aggressive behavior with other kids is something.
Of course, I am not there to investigate bullies. I just needed to highlight the importance of that concept so that I can figure out the appropriate action to take when a bully comes near my kids.
What I really want is…
I go there to take my kids to play and have fun in a “safe” environment.
So I am here with my kids, an open space with greenery and fresh air; all ingredients for happy family time and positive energy and rejuvenation.
Then I see someone pushing other kids, hitting, or engaging in other forms of behavior that could inflict harm on my kids. I want to protect them, but is it my problem or my kids’?
You see I am not around with them at school for instance and I want them to be independent and learn how to defend themselves.
So how can I help?
1. So my first step is to make sure they understand the concept above and to understand the need to defend themselves. I use Preventive I-message such as: “We are going to the club so that you can play in the kids’ area. I need to make sure that you are safe, so in case anyone bothers you (e.g. pushes you around or hits you) I want to know how you will defend yourself.” Usually they would reply, “Yes, I can tell them or just push away their hand in case they want to hit me”. I also let them know that they can come to me for help in case they needed it.
A Preventive I-message is a message that can prevent an unacceptable behavior in the future.
2. The other thing I used to do when my kids were very young (pre-verbal) is to keep a close watch and be actually with them physically. That served two purposes; the ability to protect my child instantly and some bonding one-on-one time together (they still remember it until now ).
3. In case I started noticing some aggressive behaviors from a nearby child, I would Active Listen; that is try to feedback my understanding of what s/he is saying (verbal communication) or doing (non-verbal) with empathy. Of course, this requires that the other child needed it and allowed me to listen to him. This would usually calm them down.
4. In case the other child has bullied my kid and she tried to defend herself but still he insisted, then I would send a Confrontive I-message in an assertive tone to the bully, “I feel really scared when you start pushing and hitting her because this will injure and hurt her”.
Confrontive I-messages are effective when there is an unacceptable behavior that I want to change, so I have to state the behavior, my feelings, and why it is unacceptable. This models for my child how to send an effective Confrontive I-message to others.
5. In case the other child doesn’t listen, I would either physically protect my child or move to another toy until s/he is finished.
Thanks to PET, I could use these effectiveness skills (Active Listening, Confrontive and Preventive I-messages) to get the results I want; to enjoy our family outing and help my kids defend themselves from bullies.
We would love to coach you learn the skills to handle such situations, so e-mail us on firstname.lastname@example.org.