Bullying Versus Normal Conflict

A certain level of conflict between kids is normal, even healthy, and teaching your child how to handle everyday difficulties will prepare her for life. The problem begins when it surpasses normal childhood conflict and meets the three above-mentioned common markers for bullying: an imbalance of power, intent to harm, and threat of future harm.

Once a conflict between one or more kids has escalated into a cycle of bullying, employing conflict resolution to solve the problem is no longer appropriate. The word “conflict” assumes that both kids are in part responsible for the current problem and need to work it out. In the process of working it out, both kids make compromises and the conflict is resolved.

But bullying is not conflict. It is aggressive victimization where one child is the perpetrator and the other is the victim. The victim is 100 percent innocent and the bully is 100 percent wrong. Forcing the victim to engage in conflict resolution or mediation with her bully is neither fair nor recommended. The responsibility for resolving the bullying lies squarely on the bully's shoulders. The bully should be told, “Your behavior is unacceptable and it will not be tolerated.” The victim should be told, “No one deserves to be bullied. Every effort will be made to stop it.” Making the victim feel safe should be top priority.

Remember, conflict is a part of life, and ordinary, everyday conflicts can make kids stronger. Bullying does the exact opposite; it systematically makes kids weaker by undermining their self-esteem.

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