The Buddhist Answer to Bullies

What is bully kindness?

Posted Jul 05, 2010

Bullying is a universal experience. Each of us can likely remember the first time someone "pushed you around" verbally, emotionally or physically. I won't forget David Smith*. In eighth grade he called me "black lips" out the window of the bus. I was so hurt. It was my first experience of someone in public pushing me around and seeking to take my power.

The Story Continues

As we all know, children today continue to be faced with bullies from electronic messages to the common name calling, teasing and scare tactics. There is no shortage of things to identify other kids as different, weak or "less than" so that one can temporarily feel an adrenaline bully-rush.

But what do we do as positive parents? How do we explain the concept of a bully to a young child? And help him or her "see" the truth as well as feel empowered to emerge from this all too common experience safe, strong and secure in their own selves.

Buddhism Says

Last month, I was working with Erin (age 7) who was being bullied everyday in school by Sam. Erin's response was to cry. She didn't know what else to do because his bullying hurt her feelings - that was it. Erin couldn't see or think beyond her emotions until I guided her to do the following:

1. "See" the Suffering - Erin revealed to me Sam's home life situation. His dad was in prison and home was really challenging. Then I asked Erin what she thought about this situation, and she replied, "yup, I guess Sam's life is hard and he is unhappy." This ah-ha was the doorway that helped Erin develop compassion for Sam and his situation even if it was just a little bit.


2. Protect Yourself - Erin was called names, which really hurt her but it was clear she was never in any physical danger. This is not always the case. Every child needs to learn how to avoid "bully situations" if they can such as not being alone often in the hallway, schoolyard or lunch cafeteria.


3. Use Mottos (mantras) - Teaching kids how to use mottos or mantras to affirm their own power and strength makes them "completely unappealing to bullies" since they aren't weak (i.e. good targets). It also has the sneaky side affect of bolstering their confidence. Erin liked saying, "I am strong" over and over again. Coupled with breathing techniques I taught her she also felt actively calm quickly.


4. Apply Kindness - Erin found that when she was nice to Sam - he didn't want to tease her or bully her. Bullies typically pick kids that are sensitive, quiet or "easy targets" so they can quickly feel strong and a false sense of power. When Erin befriended Sam it was much harder for Sam to "distance" himself from Erin - she become a real person with feelings. Kindness thus diffused this bullying episode.


5. Cut-Off - Kindness quite frankly can't fix everything. Sometimes bullies that are older become dangerous, aggressive and violent thus requiring kids to learn to remove themselves from this situation. Buddhists call it "cutting-off" when you learn to "cut-off" any negative situations, emotions or responses (i.e. cheating, stealing, lying) that can potentially cause you harm. This means teaching kids not to "respond but walk away" from such aggressors.

These 5 tips come from Buddhist philosophy that encourages insight (see the suffering), preservation of life (protect self), use right speech (mantras/affirmations), compassion (apply kindness) and self-discipline (cut-off) in dealing with others.

Such suggestions are also focused upon guiding young children (ages 3 to 8) on how to begin understanding the experience of a bully while keeping their emotional health intact. It is preventative medicine. It is only the beginning. Of course, if any child looks potentially harmful to self or others - serious action needs to be taken immediately.

Strengthening Our Kids

Educating our kids to "see" bullying as a form of suffering is insightful. It teaches them that bullies are hurting, angry and need our compassion more than our criticism.

I also believe the only way that this epidemic of bullying is to be "turned around" in our schools is to change the way we perceive bullies, train our children earlier with tools of emotional health and provide bullies with a "way out" if they are willing, able and ready to transform their thinking as well as actions (i.e. bully intervention programs).

Let us not forget: No one is born wanting to be a bully. They learned it. They can unlearn it too. And in the meantime, my recommendation is we each continue to strengthen our children's abilities to be strong from the inside out.

© 2010
Maureen Healy is the founder of Growing Happy Kids and parenting author of 365 Perfect Things to Say to Your Kids. She is also a frequent parenting expert in the media appearing on ABC, NBC and the CW. More information, please visit: www.growinghappykids.com

* Name changed for privacy purposes.