teen girl checks phone as she worries about a bully

THRIVE

Thoughts on Pride, power, authenticity and dealing with bullies

  • Bullying is defined as a wielding of social power to belittle a person or influence a situation.
  • Being able to be authentic has significant benefits to our mental health.
  • How we handle conflict can be a model for the techniques and skills from which our children can watch and learn.

Our country is based, at least partially, upon the idea that we can govern ourselves. Today we are facing some very difficult truths, some of which go back 400 years or longer. We have treated some people unequally, as property, not people. We have never gotten over that history and today are still struggling with it.

We are struggling with decisions about who has rights, who has power, whose life is even allowed to exist. These questions are not exaggerations. These questions are being debated in the media, on our streets, in our state houses and in our nation's capitol.

These days, I see examples of bullying and hate daily, whether it is against LGBTQ+ people, Asian or Islamic neighbors or Jewish community members. How we treat each other, especially as it relates to our differences, is a powerful tool we can use to teach children how to treat each other.

As we engage with the daily work of being our best selves, it is important to recognize in ourselves and others that we will not always think, act or talk in ways that make us proud. We all have good and bad moments. While we should always try to be our best selves, it’s only human to make mistakes. When we do, it's important to admit our mistakes, accept that there are consequences to our words and actions, and try to repair any damage we may have caused if appropriate and possible to do so.

What is bullying?

Bullying is defined as a wielding of social power to belittle a person or influence a situation. Bullying behavior is not isolated to children. Adults also experience bullying.

This year, in some parts of our country, transgender youth are facing new legislation, which aims to limit their access to health care. I see this as a form of bullying. In some states, this legislation is coming between doctors and our ability to communicate with and appropriately care for our patients. Conversations between patients and doctors are being legislated as to their legality. Power is being used to define and limit the lives of others. Which comes around to my point that adults are not free from bullying behaviors.

A story of bullying and conflict resolution

How do we as adults, with or without children, recognize and address bullying behaviors in ourselves and others?

The following may seem like a simple story of bullying, but recently, I was at a skateboard park in North Minneapolis on a Sunday morning. There were five white people at the park. Three of us were there to skateboard. One person announced he had been drinking. He was moving around the park disrupting our ability to skateboard.  He was showing confrontational behavior, boasting, and seeking validation for his behavior. That behavior was due to him being drunk at 10 a.m.

When it was clear a response to his behavior was needed I simply asked him, “How does that feel?” His next question was “Do you drink?” to which I replied, “I’m not drinking right now.” After that, the situation de-escalated and the two people, who were not there to skate, left.

That was a very tricky situation to navigate for me. There was conflict about who gets to use a space and for what. Learning to work out conflict is an important skill that starts to develop as soon as children start to interact with one another. This social-emotional skill development starts at a very young age and carries into adulthood. Even as adults, many of us try to avoid conflict or don’t feel confident in using conflict resolution skills.

How to help your child deal with bullying 

So how do we best support our children to deal with bullying, including bullying around LGBTQ+ identities? As with so many issues related to health care, prevention is the best medicine. Teaching our children healthy conflict resolution skills early, between the ages of 18 months to 5 years old, can carry into teaching other conflict resolution skills in older children and as adults.

Understanding how we treat each other when we have a conflict is a powerful tool. How we handle conflict in our own lives can be a model for the techniques and skills from which our children can watch and learn. Some of these techniques include:

  • Communication that is clear, consistent, honest, straightforward and respectful.
  • Asking the other person for their perspective.
  • Active listening, which can create breakthroughs in communication and understanding.

Finding ways to repair damage when we recognize that our behavior or that of another caused conflict. This can include listening, reading, or talking through a conflict. You can talk, alone with a therapist or with others involved in the conflict, in a calm and safe setting after initial emotions have settled.

Bullying and LGBTQ+ identities

During Pride Month, I see the origins of Pride overlap with other struggles for equality and awareness. As we celebrate our increasing ability to live our lives authentically (and without taking that for granted), let’s not forget that LGBTQ+ identity is just one identity that leads to people being treated differently. Let us remember that being able to be authentic has significant benefits to our mental health. As we learn to work together and respect each other as individuals, we can build a better world that is based on acceptance of our differences.

This year, it is my hope that we can enjoy Pride Month in the ways we are able. Get vaccinated so it is safer to gather with others. Celebrate and commit to continuing the urgent efforts to navigate conflict, respect our differences, and work toward fixing systems that continue to harm our neighbors. I believe, if we start there, we will end up creating a society that values everyone. It won’t be easy, but we can do it!

Resources for children and adults

“You Be You!: The Kid's Guide to Gender, Sexuality and Family,” by Jonathan Robert Branfman. For ages 5 to 12. It explains differences and terms in an age-appropriate way that is clear, straight-forward and respectful.

“I Want It,” by Elizabeth Crary. A choose-your-own- story for ages 3 to 8. Part of a series that also includes “I'm Mad,” “I'm Frustrated,” “I'm Proud,” “I'm Scared,” “I'm Excited,” and “I'm Furious”. It is an excellent series from a social and emotional learning perspective.

“When I Feel Afraid,” by Cheri J Meiners. Another great preschool book to help kids and parents navigate the important work of learning to identify and experience a range of feelings includes an epilogue with guidance for parents. It is also part of a larger series of books on topics of social and emotional learning.

“How to be an Anti-Racist, by Ibrahim X Kendi. For adults, this is a clear-eyed, present day understanding of the various forms of racism in our culture and how to approach self-exploration to create change. Also includes versions for children and families, study guides and workbooks.

 

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