James, 10, has been mates with Tommy, also 10, for three years, but it’s always been a very dominating relationship.
“Tommy dictates the rules and if he doesn’t get his own way, he bullies James, excludes him from play at school and football, and taunts him in front of the other kids,” explains James’ mum, Cate. “Then, like a switch, Tommy decides he wants to be friends with James again and they’re best mates – like nothing happened.”
Cate says this continual behaviour has negatively affected James’ confidence and she’s often found him in tears. But, because the boys would make friends a week or so after a fallout, she was unsure about how to handle it.
Professor Donna Cross is a bullying expert for the Bullying. So Not Ok. awareness campaign, working together with Supré Foundation, headspace and Telethon Kids Institute. The initiative takes a stand against school bullying behaviour by fostering positive change to create a supportive world, from overt bullying to cyclic bullying, like James experienced.
In this special anti-bullying series, Professor Cross analyses real-life bullying experiences and offers practical advice to deal with it – for both parents and the children.
This week, Cate and James share their story and Professor Cross’ gives her advice…
Cate’s Story: “Bullying Has Caused A Rift With The Parents.”
“The boys were in Grade 4 the first time I said something to Tommy. I found James in tears after footy practice, because of Tommy’s bullying. I’d had enough. It had been going on for well over a year and I’d let it go because they’d make friends soon after a tiff, but I’d seen James in tears one too many times.
“I walked up to Tommy and told him to stop being mean to James in a very aggressive voice. He just looked at me, shocked, then walked off. His parents weren’t there but Tommy obviously told them because they didn’t spake to me for several weeks afterwards.
“Twelve months later and it was still happening on a regular basis. Again, I found James in tears after a game and this time I walked up to Tommy, in front of his parents, and said ‘Tommy, do you know why James is crying?’ He just shrugged his shoulders and the parents said nothing. They know Tommy is mean and dominating and excludes kids from play when he doesn’t get his own way – and they do absolutely nothing about it. In fact, the way Tommy speaks to them is shocking. Tommy clearly dictates to the whole household. The parents are both passive, and are either in denial or actively choose to ignore Tommy’s behaviour.
“A week later another footy mum, Louise, asked me if I had confronted Tommy and I said ‘yes’. I thought she was going to have a go at me! Instead, she revealed that when Tommy wasn’t bullying James, he was bullying her son, Beau. I had no idea it was happening to other children too.
“Louise and I become friends and she invited our family to go skiing with her family last winter. Everything exploded when Tommy’s mum asked if Louise if her family could come along too. Louise, who is normally very softly spoken and non-confrontational let out years of anger. She revealed that Tommy’s bullying had resulted in Beau needing 18 months of counselling by a psychologist to help him with his anxiety. Tommy’s mum’s response was, ‘why didn’t you say something sooner?’
This all happened about eight months ago and football has been very awkward for the parents since then. There seems to be two camps – Tommy’s parent’s camp and Louise and I. However, the kids seem totally unfazed by it all. Tommy’s still treating James like dirt one minute and his best friend the next. It’s a real shame.” Cate, mum to James, 10.
Professor Donna Cross says:
“Bullying is a learned behaviour. Children who bully often have been bullied and/or have at least one person with whom they spend time who is modelling this behaviour. Parents are a key influence on their children’s social behaviour and need to act quickly when they see bullying behaviour in their children, for example between siblings.”
“This behaviour is likely to increase if parents take no action as their children perceive their parents’ inaction, meaning they are condoning this behaviour. It is important to remember that all children are capable of bullying others. It is normal for parents to feel shocked, embarrassed and even doubt if they find their child has been bullying others.”
“To help discourage their children from bullying, parents can:
- Talk about bullying behaviour with them, discuss why they may want to bully someone and suggest other more positive actions that can provide the same benefits without the risk;
- Help your children to be aware of the effects of bullying others;
- Be alert and discourage bullying behaviour at home;
- Encourage and provide opportunities for children to openly discuss any issues or concerns; and
- Teach your children what is appropriate behaviour and how you expect him or her to treat others.”
Professor Cross says Cate can also arm James with skills to help him deal with bullying, including helping him form other friendship groups, practising how to respond to exclusionary behaviour, how to diffuse bullying situations and building confidence. “Skilling your children to respond to extinguish the behaviour is important as children who bully are looking for a reaction and when they don’t get this they usually look elsewhere,” explains Professor Cross.
Photography: Trinity Kubassek