By Dr Ash Nayate, Clinical Neuropsychologist Psych4Schools Guest Blogger
Bullying is a widespread concern for kids and teens, and despite our best efforts, as educators we can often feel like we’re one step behind. Most schools do an outstanding job of establishing anti-bullying policies, investing in student wellbeing, and teaching kids the strategies to manage bullying. And yet, bullying is as prevalent as ever, and contributing to significant youth mental health problems from depression to drug abuse.
A critical element to managing bullying is to encourage kids to develop their identity. Whether the child is doing the bullying or is the victim of bullying, the underlying issue is the same – a poor sense of identity. This creates a lack of confidence, and a feeling of not being ‘good enough’. This leads to the child finding ways to be ‘good enough’ – in any way possible. It could be through belittling others, becoming a people-pleaser, or through perfectionism or over-achievement.
Kids with a strong identity embody traits that naturally discourage bullying. They have self confidence, a feeling of competence and capability, self esteem, and self respect. They tend to speak up if they are being bullied and stand up for their beliefs. They exude a physical state of confidence that reflects their inner assuredness. They tend to have a supportive network and open lines of communication – whether with parents, teachers, or friends. And, these kids are more likely to ask for help if they need it.
So, how do we encourage kids to strengthen their sense of identity?
We do this by helping kids recognise that they’re already ‘good enough’. By helping them tap into the variety of wonderful positive qualities that they already possess, and encouraging them to harness the power inherent in those attributes. We can get an inkling of those attributes when we chat with kids about the events, experiences, and activities that really light them up.
Incidentally, those qualities needn’t be those that set kids above others. It’s not necessarily about being the smartest or the most athletic. Often, those attributes are less tangible, like trustworthiness, or the ability to see the best in others, or being able to think creatively.
When kids start tuning into their positive attributes, it strengthens their identity. And the best part is that it’s a perpetuating process – the more they think about their positive qualities, the more they will find.
And to support our kids, we can ensure that we nurture those qualities in a clear and consistent way – both in the classroom and at the leadership level. If kids have a clear sense of identity, then they are better able to emulate their positive qualities day to day. They will have a greater respect for the values and standards of the school community, and they’ll take more responsibility for upholding them. This then brings about a profound shift in the culture of the school community, where the seed of bullying finds it more difficult take hold, and the ground is fertile for the seeds of tolerance, kindness, and respect to flourish.
Dr. Ash Nayate is a clinical neuropsychologist with expertise in behavioural interventions with over a decade of experience in the health and developmental fields. She works closely with families and educators to improve wellbeing and resilience in young people. Ash is the founder of Revolution Me – Creating tomorrow’s leaders and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her website.
Note from Murray Evely and Zoe Ganim Psych4Schools Psychologists
Schools need to ensure they are dealing with bullying proactively, and provide those who are being bullied, as well as those who bully, with as much support as possible.
Please see our ebooklet Working with children who are bullied for ideas to help your school support these children, and to promote a positive school culture. The ebooklet is also available as a free resource for non-members of Psych4School by clicking here.