Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bullying and Buddhism: A Practical Response

Parents speak out on bullying after son's death

(CBS News)  The Obama administration is holding its third summit on bullying next week in Washington, D.C. It's a huge problem for American kids. By one estimate, as many as 160,000 students stay home on any given day because they're afraid of bullies.

In January in Monroe, N.Y., a 14-year-old victim took his own life. And now his parents are fighting back.

Here’s a brief excerpt from an article by Maureen Healy, who applies Buddhist philosophy to her work with young kids:

The Buddhist Answer to Bullies

Last month, I was working with Erin (age 7) who was being bullied every day 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.

 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.

 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.

 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.

 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.

The Practical Buddhist adds that because bullying is potentially dangerous and because younger kids aren’t good at assessing danger, they need to learn to tell a parent or teacher what’s going on, every time. Little Erin got good advice from a trusted adult.  Bullied kids feel isolated and vulnerable.  They need to feel able to seek and get guidance and support. Sometimes they may even need physical protection. When a child doesn’t want to go to school or shows other signs of distress, consider the possibility of bullying.

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