Research has proven time and again that bullying takes a toll and results in low self-esteem, and impacts children’s lives in negative ways – socially, emotionally, academically, and psychologically. This is why it is critical to help children develop their emotional intelligence skills, because when children have high self-esteem, and when they feel safe and happy in their homes and schools, they are able to participate in all aspects of life more successfully.
I think an invaluable lesson we can help children learn is to take responsibility for their actions through response-ability (ability to respond) because everything we think, say, or do is a choice! In our relationships with one another, we can choose to say or do things that are kind, caring, nurturing, and supportive, for example, or we may choose to be unkind, mean, hurtful, or aggressive. Someone who bullies is making a behavioral choice. When someone is targeted for bullying, they choose from a variety of responses. For example, some will choose to keep silent and push the hurt deep down, and over time this takes a toll on self-esteem as the bullying continues and escalates. Others may respond by bullying or being aggressive back. However, this choice adds aggression to aggression and it only continues the cycle of more aggression: A (Aggression) + A (Aggression) = A (more Aggression). Even adults may respond to someone who is bullying with aggression through shaming and shouting and punishing.
Ultimately it’s up to each of us to use our own conscience, or, our emotional intelligence, to choose responses which will be more pro-social. Albert Einstein once said “Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” So how do we move in the opposite direction and make different choices which are more pro-social?
A great way to think about choice-making is something I learned from Jack Canfield. I recently dusted off some very old audio cassette tapes from Canfield on self-esteem. He describes a formula: E (events) + R (response) = O (outcome). I have thought about how this can be relevant to learning how to respond to bullying.
An Event, for example, may be that someone is bullying me.
My Response may be to do nothing (not saying or doing anything to try to get it to stop).
The Outcome is that I feel bad about it and it impacts my self-esteem. Additionally, it heightens my state of anxiety and fear of it happening again.
However, this is where we can empower children, or anyone, to learn to break the cycle of bullying. Basically, I can’t control the Events (what others say or do), but I can control my Response to it. If I don’t like the outcome (feeling bad, worried about being bullied again), then I need to change something in the formula. My point of power is in changing my Response, which means the Outcome will be different because it’s a mathematical equation! Our “Response-ability” is recognizing our ability, and power, to choose a different Response, that will yield a different Outcome. So next time I might say something to stand up for myself, or I might do something like walk away, or even report the person who is bullying in an attempt to get it to stop. I can’t change YOU (the Event), but I can change ME (my Response) to create the Outcome I hope for (feeling good about myself, feeling safer and at peace)!
Similarly, Viktor E. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, said “Between stimulus (event) and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” That’s the mindfulness piece – connecting both heart and mind to deliberately and consciously choose something that will contribute to a peaceful outcome. Our responsibility as adults is to help children come up with responses that will help them to feel/be safe and happy in their relationships with others. Help them practice these responses through role-playing to make the neuronal shift in their brains which will help them access those learned skills when they need them.
If we are to create a change in our social climate and evolve to a more peaceful and compassionate culture we must begin helping children learn to respond with the intention to create peace as the outcome, while also practicing that in our own lives as well. This is what takes us in the direction of greater happiness for all. That power is our choice!
By Dee DiGioia, producer of the children’s movie “Which Team Will You Choose?” and author of “One Caring and Courageous Choice at a Time”. Dee is also a public speaker and has recently presented at conferences in San Francisco and Las Vegas.