“God, I really hope he doesn’t get bullied at school,” are the words I said to my husband when my son started primary school many moons ago – he’s now in grade ten and 15 years old. Strangely, I never had that same fear for my daughter, now aged ten, who is still at primary school.
The Oxford Dictionary defines a ‘bully’ as
‘A person who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those whom they perceive as vulnerable.’
The word bully is often thrown about like confetti, without a proper understanding of what it really means. I always caution not to assume a child is being bullied because of a single incident. Sure we get cross, however, we do have to be careful of the overuse of the word.
If I were to describe my children, my son would be likened to a tornado that makes its presence known, crashing through the house leaving a mess in his wake. He’s a joker who continually makes noise – even in his sleep. He’s a nurturing, kind boy, with an abundance of patience with little kids who love his tornado-like energy. My daughter, on the other hand, is a quiet observer, someone who makes no judgement without evaluating all sides of the coin first. She is what we call ‘pure love’. If you’re upset, she will sit beside you and just rub your back without saying a word or getting in your face. She will wait until you’re ready to speak. Everyone that has ever offered an opinion on Miss Ten’s disposition has described her as ‘quietly confident’.
My son has been bullied and targeted. My daughter, never.
I’ve heard so many other parents whose children were, or are, about to embark on the new adventure of education repeat what I said all those years ago. These are the same thoughts of parents all over the world. We hear so many stories of children being bullied at school that we can’t help but worry. This then fuels our fear as parents, and as a parent, I have enough worries without adding to them.
My son started school, entering prep with all the joy of the innocent. He was keen to meet the kids in his class and make new friends. Always a chatterbox and full of energy - sometimes too much even for me – my son was kind and loved to help kids that were struggling. Based on this information, he was seated next to a child who had had a difficult start in life, and within a week, my son was sent home with a black eye. The other child had decided that he hated him because he was ‘way too soft’. The school’s reasoning for putting my boy with the child was that since my son was a gentle natured boy - albeit noisy - they believed that he would help settle and calm the child who ‘was very angry,’ as they described him.
My fear was realised. My little boy was picked on repeatedly by the other child, and the school did almost nothing about it until the other child eventually left the school. Over time, my son changed from being a lovable, fun-loving child, to a challenging and unsettled little boy.
Halfway through grade five, we made the decision to move him to another primary school, even though he didn’t want to leave – he was fast in the grip of the, ‘better the devil you know’ emotion. Our choice resulted in an improvement in his grades, an improvement in his self-confidence, and an enormous improvement in his attitude and behaviour. Woohoo, our happy loveable boy came back to us!
I have just one question - where in the hell is the manual on being a parent?
Today I am a Public Speaking Coach, however back then I had absolutely no idea how much our posture can elicit either positive or negative reactions from those around us. Had I known what I know now, perhaps my son wouldn’t have had to go through what he did.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t change the past, however I can change the present, and therefore the future for my children and for others. I set about working very hard with both of my kids since gaining my knowledge as a public speaking and communications coach. I have and am continuing to make sure that they are equipped with as many tools as they need to communicate with and ‘deal’ with other people. Helping them to understand which tools to draw upon as they need them. My son is now probably one of the most resilient kids I know because of his experience.
I’ve been coaching kids not only in communication techniques but how to be more self-confident for a few years now, and many of the kids who were previously shy or timid, thought of as ‘sheep’, or even overly confident to the point of cockiness, learned to come across as ‘quietly confident’. Some also reported that, where they had previously been targeted by others, they were no longer feeling intimidated because they felt more confident in how they dealt with their antagonist.
I get approached by parents of children that have either been bullied or targeted by other kids on how to help them communicate with their bully to stop, and I give as much advice as I can.
Children can be encouraged to be kinder from a young age and, as with everything, it starts at home with discipline, kindness and leading by example.
I’ve seen children behave poorly not only in front of their parents but also in front of me while in class, thinking that it’s OK. In many cases their actions elicit no consequences from their parents. Instead, I have heard parents make an excuse for why their child, for example, smacked the other kid on the head! Why do we do this? Why do we think it’s OK to make an excuse for poor behaviour? It doesn’t mean that we are parenting badly if we see or hear our kids do or say something that they shouldn’t and action it. Quite the contrary, poor parenting is when we see or hear something and consistantly do nothing!
We’re all learning how to parent, so we need to be kind to ourselves and not feel the need to justify ourselves as parents or criticise others. That said, the best thing I did for my kids was to recognise that they can be complete and utter turds at times! But they are kids, and those two words (turds and kids) often go hand in hand when they’re getting up our noses, and our patience is wearing thin.
By being in denial to poor behaviour, we prevent our child from starting school in the best way possible. Particularly, as they progress through the different year levels. Our blindness can result in a child that either ends up being bullied, or being a bully, being labelled as a ‘bad kid’, someone to stay away from. These are all descriptions that none of us ever want to have attached to our children.
Believe me, I completely understand that it’s difficult to be objective about our children, and I too have been guilty of being on that long river in Africa (DeNile) in the past. But, if you persevere, and embrace the fact that being objective is a kindness for your child, you will be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
The quiet confidence builder: Posture
The ability to communicate well is essential. We know that. However, it’s my experience that one of the most significant aspects of confidence in children, sits in a straightforward area (as they learn to master the art of verbal communication) and that’s their posture.
So why is our kid's posture so important when they start school? As someone who has changed the postures of children in my classes from as young as age five, I know that if our kids can start school with the correct posture, we might see a reduction in unnecessary unkindness, just because a ‘quietly confident’ child is not one that will immediately be singled out. My daughter has never been bullied, picked on, targeted, or been at the receiving end of any unkindness whatsoever, and it’s not just because she’s ‘lucky’, it’s because she has an air of quiet confidence about her.
I realise that in prep and grade one they may seem a little young, trust me they’re not. You can over time, slowly and gently encourage your child to change the way they stand when chatting in a group, or how they get up in front of the class to present a ‘show-and-tell’.
What can you do to help your child’s posture?
As adults we know when we are standing tall with our heads held high that we feel more confident, and improving our posture can give us a quick mood boost. Go on, try it. If you’re slumped over reading this article, straighten up and see how you feel.
The same applies to our children.
How does your child walk?
Do they shuffle?
Are their shoulders out of alignment (one more raised than the other)?
Do their shoulders slope downwards?
Or are they rounded forward?
Or are they a combination of the above?
How does your child stand when they talk?
Do they appear shy, sheepish, or timid?
Do they come across as too-confident, perhaps cocky and alpha-like?
Is their head held straight or tilted to the side?
Do they cross their arms over their chest?
Even though more items could be added to the above, the ones listed are indications of what you can change in your child. Even if they do none of them, you can still give them the tools, because often it’s not until you adjust a child’s posture that you can see where the improvement is. Posture adjustment is the first thing I do with every new child that enters into my programs.
Don’t judge too heavily, make it a game and do the following:
Get your child to stand in front of you in their normal, natural position. Observe and see if you can identify any of the above.
Gently place your hands on their shoulders, and say “let’s shake it up,” to encourage their shoulders to loosen as you gently shake yours like a dancer to show them what to do as they copy you.
Get them to spread their legs and feet apart, to the width of their shoulders.
Instruct them to stand up nice and straight, like they have a puppet string coming out of the top of their head that’s being pulled upward towards the sky.
Ask them to pop their arms behind their backs and have their dominant hand lightly grasp their non-dominant hand’s wrist.
Using your hands, gently push their shoulders back (not too far) so that their chest is open and they appear aligned.
Having their hands behind their back will help with correct shoulder alignment. Once they feel more comfortable with it, they can drop their arms, keeping their shoulders in place. The exercise takes practice, but the impression of self-confidence is immediate, even when they don’t feel it. Get them to move around the room, asking them to put their arms behind their back and then dropping them. They’ll feel very strange, maybe not even particularly like the sensation, but you should see a big difference in how they are coming across in their way of physically communicating.
I truly believe this simple exercise can help change whether our child is perceived as vulnerable or not.
Give it a go yourself, and see how you feel!
Written by Samantha Richards.
Samantha Richards is a Public Speaking Coach and founder of ‘Building Voices Public Speaking’. She is an award-winning public speaker who has competed at the highest level of public speaking in Australia. She is passionate about helping children to be happy and confident when public speaking and communicating. For more information visit, www.buildingvoices.com.au or email her on firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.facebook.com/buildingvoices/, or www.instagram.com/building.voices/
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