by Bernie Siegel, MD

Why do I think children become bullies? The opposite of love is indifference and so many children act out to get attention through bullying, aggression and violence. They do not interpret it the way we do because by growing up without being loved they have a different nervous system and are far less sensitive to physical aggression, noise and other sensory stimuli. The messages children receive prior to the age of six affect them in the same way someone under hypnosis is affected by the words of a hypnotist. So when they receive mottoes to die by and other negative messages they will act out in ways which are destructive for themselves and others, such as addictions and violence.

It is normal for every one to have aggressive tendencies but how we use them is what life is about. Just as fire can destroy or warm your home so the energy within a child must be directed to healthy endeavors. As a surgeon I cut people up to cure diseases and repair their physical defects. I am not attacking people with a knife. I am healing them.

We must help our children learn how to direct their energy and aggression into constructive activities. By harnessing the energy they become creative, not destructive, or threats to their family, neighbors and classmates. Unhealthy rebellion is the crime. When their energy is directed into building or restoring something, art, sports, hobbies or volunteering the world becomes a better place because of their activity and no one is threatened by it. We must provide the outlets and help them search for what fulfills their needs. If you don’t want to raise a bully who is disrespectful of people in school and at work then set an example. Give them a role model and if you do not have one or can’t manage then just tell them when in doubt, WWLD; or What Would Lassie Do?

When I acted like a bully and broke a neighbor’s toy because I was jealous of what he had my father went out and bought me that toy. He didn’t tell me to replace what I broke. He just handed it to me and walked away. Yes, I went over and gave it to my neighbor. My father knew what he was putting me through was worse than physical punishment.

We need to convey a reverence for life to them and it can be through making them responsible for the life and comfort of some living thing; be it a plant, pet or another human being. When you care for and about what you live with you respect the world and its inhabitants. Our home and yard were filled with rescued animals and our children even carried insects out of the house because they respected them as a living thing. So when they rebelled it was to improve the status quo and create a better world rather one filled with fear because of their behavior.

We have five children and at times they sat on each other in the yard and yelled, “Make ‘em eat grass.” But this was their way of showing appropriate anger when they weren’t respected and no one was hurt by it and it became a family expression, rather than an act, to let your siblings know how you felt. A dying teenager I know of used a water gun in the hospital to let people know he wanted privacy and the staff barged into his room for insignificant reasons. His anger hurt no one and taught many nurses and doctors to respect his behavior. The gun became a gift for other children to use after he died.

Now what do you do if your child is being picked on by a bully at school or in the street? It is appropriate to be angry when you are not treated with respect but to respond with violence only aggravates the situation. Yes, I would make the authorities at school or in your neighborhood aware of what is happening but I prefer to kill with kindness and torment with tenderness. So tell your child to invite the bully over to your house for some fun and a good meal. Call the bully’s parents and chat with them about their child’s behavior. When you understand you will find it easier to forgive. What I mean is that if you learned the bully’s mom had been diagnosed with cancer you’d be far more forgiving about his anger. I had a school gang leader, who hadn’t spoken in a class in four years, raise his hand to participate in a class I was teaching. He knew I was there because I cared about him and the other students. Through our persistent love, even when we do not like what they are doing, we can reparent the bullies too and help them to rebel against elements of our society which need change. I tell them I am ready to be their CD, or Chosen Dad. A title given to me by a suicidal young lady I helped.

I love to bring senior citizens and students together because everyone needs a loving grand parent who is filled with the wisdom of a lifetime. By doing this you establish guidance, which I like to think of as; god u and i dance. They let the children know that troubles can be redirections from which something good will come. To quote the laws of physics; cold and darkness do not exist; they are the absence of heat and light. So evil occurs when love is absent and people lose their way. My prescription is to use love as a weapon and help them to find their way. Love is blind because it does not see faults in others and helps us to heal and maintain healthy relationships.