When it comes to bullying, no one would disagree that bullying behavior is unkind. But, did you know that not every unkind behavior is bullying?
In fact, kids, especially young kids, are still learning how emotions work and how people get along with others. They need parents, teachers and other adults to show them how to be kinder, how to resolve conflicts, how to be inclusive and how to grow into responsible adults. Immediately labeling them a bully doesn’t help them grow and learn.
Remember there will be times when kids will do or say something that is hurtful. Although being unkind should never be ignored, be careful not to lump all inappropriate behavior into bullying. Instead, try to distinguish between hurtful or unkind behavior and bullying behavior.
Here are some examples of non-bullying behavior.
Expressing Negative Thoughts and Feelings
Kids, especially elementary school children, often are very open and honest with their thoughts and feelings. And although it may be uncomfortable for another child to hear what another person thinks, it is not always bullying to share thoughts and feelings.
For example, young children often speak the truth without even thinking about the consequences. They might make a one-time comment about someone’s hair being messy or ask why a person’s teeth stick out. Or, they might make an uncensored observation like “Wow, your mom is fat.”
While these are unkind remarks, they usually come from a place of innocence and should not be labeled immediately as bullying. Instead, the kids who make these types of remarks need an adult to tell them what is appropriate and what isn’t. The adult might also give them some ideas on how to phrase things in a way that it won’t offend other people.
It’s also important for children on the receiving end of an unkind remark to learn how to communicate their feelings with the offending child. For instance, it is healthy to say “I felt hurt when you laughed at my new braces” or “I don’t like it when you call my mom fat.”
Being Left Out
Remember, it is natural for kids to be close friends with certain people and want to spend time with them. Although children should be friendly and kind toward everyone, it’s unrealistic to expect them to be close friends with every child they know.
It’s also normal that a child won’t be invited to every function or event. There will be times when they are left off the guest list for birthday parties, outings and play dates. This is not the same thing as ostracizing behavior.
When your children are the ones feeling left out, remind them that sometimes they too have to choose not include every one. Being left out is not bullying. Only when someone is ostracized or deliberately excluded, does being left out become bullying.
It’s a known fact that kids will bicker and fight. In fact, conflict is a very normal part of growing up. The key is that children learn how to solve their problems peacefully and respectfully.
A fight or a disagreement does not represent bullying – even when unkind things are said. Remember, bullying is about a lack of power. A spat or disagreement here and there is not bullying.
Most kids have been teased by a friend or a sibling in a playful, friendly or mutual way. They both laugh and no one’s feelings get hurt. Teasing is not bullying as long as both kids find it funny. But when teasing becomes cruel, unkind and repetitive, it crosses the line into bullying.
Joking and teasing becomes bullying when there is a conscious decision to hurt another person. For instance, making demeaning comments, name-calling, spreading rumors and making threats all constitute bullying.
Not Playing Fair
All kids, at one point or another, will want to play a game according to their “rules.” To their friends, they may even appear “bossy.” Although playing with someone like this can be unpleasant, it is important to remember that kids are still learning how to play fair.
Instead, they need an adult to help them learn how to take turns and how to cooperate with others. If your children have bossy friends, teach them how to respond to the bossy behavior. For example, your child could say: “Let’s play your way, the first time. Then, let’s try my way.”
Remember, wanting games to be played a certain way is not bullying. Only when a child begins to consistently threaten other kids or physically hurt them when things don’t go his way does it start to become bullying.
Learning to be kind to other kids is a process. But with guidance kids can get rid of inappropriate and unkind behaviors and learn how to interact with others around them without wearing the label of bully.