What makes a bully a bully?

Charli Mills flash fiction challenge at the Carrot Ranch about balloons

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills has challenged writer to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a balloon. It can be a party balloon or a hot air balloon. How does it add to your story? Go where the prompt leads.

balloons, celebrations, happy times, smiling kids

Balloons are almost synonymous with fun and celebrations. They come in all shapes and sizes to decorate parties and other events. A child with a balloon is usually a child with a smiling face – until the balloon bursts, pops or escapes.

What do balloons and bullies have in common, you may ask? I’m sure there are many ways balloons could be used for bullying.

With this Friday 16 March being the National Day Against Bullying and Violence, I decided to write a story that could be shared with children and used as a stimulus for discussing bullying, bullying prevention, and what it means to be a friend. I hope you like it.

Surprises for Marnie

Brucie loved surprising Marnie on her way to school each day.

Marnie expected that Brucie would meet her, but she never knew where.

On Monday, he jumped from behind a bush screaming at her.

On Tuesday, he stuck out his foot and tripped her.

On Wednesday, he snuck up behind and pulled her hair.

On Thursday, he popped a balloon in her ear.

On Friday, he surprised Marnie by not surprising her at all.

But, after she’d put her bag away, he pulled it out and emptied its contents on the floor.

“Whose mess is this?” demanded Mrs Brown.

bullying, being mean, hurting, pulling hair

What do you think? I have put the story together with some teaching suggestions in a resource to add to the readilearn collection.

The story has the potential to initiate discussion around issues and questions such as the following; for example:

  • What is a friend? What do friends do?
  • What is a surprise? Are all surprises good?
  • What is bullying? Are some people always friendly? Do some people always bully?
  • How do you think Marnie responds to Brucie’s “surprises”? How does her body feel?
  • Why would Brucie bully Marnie?
  • Do you think Marnie tells anyone about what Brucie is doing? Why wouldn’t she tell?
  • What should you do if you see someone being mean or bullying another?
  • Have you ever been bullied?
  • How did you respond? What would be a better way to respond?
  • What could Marnie have done to get Brucie to stop?
  • Have you ever bullied anyone?

These are just a beginning. The Bullying No Way website has some great resources to assist you in educating children about bullying and its prevention.

Bullying is defined as

“an ongoing misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that causes physical and/or psychological harm.”

The important words here are:

ongoing, repeated, misuse of power, causing harm

Single or isolated acts of unkindness or aggression are not considered bullying.

Brucie is obviously engaging in bullying behaviour as he repeatedly abuses Marnie causing her physical as well as psychological (fear, anxiety) harm.

Marnie is reluctant to talk about the situation for fear of making it worse.

Children need to learn that there are safe people they can talk to about incidents that occur, and they also need to learn strategies for responding to unkindness and bullying.

When discussing bullying situations, it is important to not label a child as either victim or bully, but to describe the behaviour. Behaviour can be changed but it is often difficult to remove a label once it has been applied. What we need most are supportive schools that fosters acceptance and respect.

I have previously discussed bullying in Stop bullying now!, Safety in friendship, Targeting prey, and Bully for you.

Karen Tyrrell Songbird Superhero and Battle of Bug World empowering books for kids anti-bullying

I also interviewed Karen Tyrrell, Australian author of empowering books for children and adults, about her junior fiction books Song Bird Superhero and The Battle of Bug World that, along with Stop the Bully, have important messages for kids about bullying.

One of my other favourite books about bullying is Willy the Wimp by Anthony Browne.

What are your favourites ways of discussing bullying with children?

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

41 thoughts on “What makes a bully a bully?

  1. Jules

    It is difficult to change a bullies behavior. And I thought it was a mistake to give one of the ‘bullies’ of our neighborhood the job of ‘Crossing Guard’ at our crowded bus stop when my own children were younger. I’m not sure if it helped. But when I think about it, it was an attempt to give the child responsibility outside of himself. Our schools have moved slowly into peer and mediated ways to deal with bullies. But there are too many who are still afraid to speak up. Especially when it seems that both the victim and the bully get penalized.

    I do think tolerance needs to start early. And that parental example is also a major part of how a child behaves. When there aren’t good examples at home, it is often difficult to find a mentor that can lift a child out of the bully/destructive attitudes.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience, Jules. I think you have mentioned that ‘Crossing Guard’ before and your displeasure at what you saw as an inappropriate responsibility. I guess it was giving him an opportunity to show that he could care for the safety of others.
      I agree with you about starting early. Unfortunately children learn what they live, and then live what they learn, so if they don’t have good role models we can’t expect them to behave as one. Fortunately there are some who have the strength to lift themselves up and break the cycle.
      Best wishes xx

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  2. Patricia Tilton

    I really enjoyed your story. I especially liked the bully keeping his victim off-balance so she never knew what to expect. I love you teaching moments. The questions are well thought out. Have reviewed many bullying books over the years. My favorite was a series by Erin Frankel called “The Weird! Series.” Each book has the same cast of characters and focuses on the victim, the bystander and the bully. Also like a fractured fairy tale “Big Red and the Little Bitty Wolf” by Jeanie Ransom.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you so much, Patricia. I really appreciate your comment, and your suggestions of books to read about bullying. I really like fractured fairy tales, but I don’t know that one.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  3. Shallow Reflections

    So much of the abuse children and adults endure have elements of surprise, and unpredictability. Your story has illustrated this so well. Keeping someone off guard is part of the game. I’m sure your story will lead to some great discussion on this important topic, Norah.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Molly. I’m pleased you recognised unpredictability as being a part of the bully’s “bag of tricks”. Sometimes the waiting and wondering where and when can be more terrifying than the actual physical event. It increases the power of bully enormously. I do hope teachers and parents find the story useful in their discussions with children.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  4. Pingback: Balloons « Carrot Ranch Literary Community

  5. Charli Mills

    Norah, you’ve created many terrific lessons to help children (and teachers) navigate the bullying dynamic. But what pleases me most is to see Marnie used as an instructive piece of fiction. In many ways, Marnie has been part of the Carrot Ranch journey and yet she’s evolving to be a tool for bringing your lessons to life in stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Charli. Yes, Marnie was born at the Carrot Ranch, and she hasn’t escaped it yet, though I have incorporated this story and ideas in a teaching resource I uploaded into the readilearn collection today. Maybe she is learning to spread her wings too. A few of the stories I’ve written in response to your prompts recently have inspired stories for children. Sometimes I think my stories are less sophisticated than those of other more eloquent writers, but I’m working to tailor my writing to my (desired) audience. I hope the Ranch hands don’t mind a bit of childish fiction occasionally. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. Charli Mills

        Too often I think people misjudge that writing for children is “easy.” It’s not easy to be clear and engaging. You understand that dynamic. And good children’s lit holds the attention of adults, just as yours does!

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply
  6. Mabel Kwong

    This is such an important topic, Norah. Bullying is something that should be talked about and discussed from a young age so that we can recognise it and resolve it. Love that little story you wrote to illustrate what bullying is – and it can be as simple as a small action or a sentence, often done or said unknowingly. I think many kids might see bullying as some kind of fun which it never really is for the victim.

    The question that you raise of whether all surprises are good resonated with me. For instance, I don’t like being surprised. I am very much a planner and sometimes things that catch me out of the ordinary makes my anxiety levels go up.

    Talking about bullying can be hard among kids because with a vivid imagination, to kids almost anything might be okay. Sometimes kids who are bullied might feel ashamed to talk about being bullied because they might reckon that’s the way things are. After all, many kids look up to someone or other for guidance and to be put down can be downright demoralising. When it comes to talking with bullying about children, maybe it’s good to emphasise that respect is important and sometimes you just have to be firm about the fact that there is a time and place for fun and games.

    Thank you for writing another insightful piece 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you so much for adding your thoughts to the post, Mabel. Talking about bullying is difficult, particularly perhaps in a class situation where both “victim” and “bully” are present. The child who is being bullied doesn’t always want to speak up in case it causes an increase in bullying in the future. But the only way we can stop it is by inculcating respect for all and saying strongly that bullying behaviour, in any form, is unacceptable.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  7. Steven

    I quite like the Friday part, where Bruce surprised by not surprising (and then doing something later anyway). I think that is clever, as the reader is sort of transported into the situation, where they are expecting something to happen – much like Marnie may have been.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Steven. I put that in hoping that people could see that once the pattern begins, doing nothing is just as troublesome because the anxiety is still there. When nothing happens you’re still left wondering when and where.

      Like

      Reply
  8. Jennie

    Excellent and important, Norah. You combine the story and “how to” tips well. Bullying happens all the time. We teachers need to address this early and often. I think that many people confuse teasing and bullying, and think that it’s okay to tease. Well, it’s not. And that’s a good place to start teaching. Thank you, Norah.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Jennie. I think teaching children how to be a friend, and to understand how others feel, is a great way to start taking action against bullying. Kindness towards each other is all we ask. You wrote a great post about it in the aftermath of the school shooting last week.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. Jennie

        You are welcome, Norah. True words! We both know it starts with teaching kindness and understanding. I’m glad you enjoyed reading the post in the aftermath of the school shooting.

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply
  9. LucciaGray

    Wonderful post. Effective and didactic. Great flash and follow up questions.
    I’d like to know how a bully’s mind can be so twisted and why they get away with it so often.
    I’m quite pessimistic about changing the bully’s behaviour, (without a very specialised, individualised and long term type of intervention), but the victim and the rest of the people involved and those who witness it can be convinced to speak up and not allow it.
    Bullies love a passive victim and audience, so that’s where we need to act.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Luccia. I’d like to know how bullies get away with it so often too. I was thinking of my nephew (he has autism) who was teased so much recently that he couldn’t take it any more. I’m not sure what he did but he got detention for disrupting the class. The ones doing the bullying got nothing. It doesn’t seem fair. They pick and pick and pick until someone, even with greater inner strength, responds. Learning to be kind wouldn’t go astray.
      I think you’re right about the intervention. I think there’s a lot of reasons for bullying. I don’t think it comes from a good place. We do need to act. I think it’s great now that people are speaking out with more solidarity against all forms of bullying and violence.

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      Reply
      1. LucciaGray

        I’m sorry about your nephew. How unfair. If I’d been the teacher it wouldn’t have happened like that. I hope I would have helped him open up and I’d have tried a mediation with the bully. He certainly would have heard me! I did a lot of that when I was a teacher at High school. I teach adults now and there’s hardly any bullying like that. I wonder what happens to bullies. Do they get cleverer or do their victims learn to defend themselves?
        Speaking out should mean we focus on strengthening the victim and the rest of the standers by.

        Liked by 1 person

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thank you, Luccia. It made me so cross when I was told about it. It would be wonderful if he had a teacher like you. Most are understanding but sometimes there one or two who just don’t understand their needs. I’m pleased to hear that the bullying doesn’t occur in the adult groups you teach. Maybe the bullies don’t get that far with their education. I’m sure they still exist. I’ve known a few. I agree that it is important to arm everyone with strategies (not guns) for standing up to bullies.

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  10. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Sounds like Marnie could have some difficulties accessing the curriculum, what with being stressed.
    Our school system does a pretty good job of educating staff and students about bullying. It still happens as the Brucie’s are so sneaky good at what they do. I do believe that incidences are dealt with more quickly and appropriately than in times past.
    I must end the conversation here. I, as you know, have a snow day, but must go use it working on correcting and report cards. (The day is made up at the end of the school year, one more day in June than originally scheduled. Some schools some years have had weeks added; we usually only have one or two days if any)

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Your comment about Marnie is true. I’m pleased your school system has got bullying under control. From what I hear in the media it’s still pretty rife here with many more ways to bully now available to anyone so inclined.
      Make the most of your snow day. Adding days on at the end doesn’t sound much fun. It would be difficult to plan holidays too. I guess it’s one solution.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  11. Annecdotist

    I love how you combined the flash fiction prompt the anti-bullying message in a resource that could be used with children.
    Your point of not labelling children as either victim or bully resonated for me. It must facilitate learning if children can recognise the behaviour and so guard against it whether they are on the receiving end, actively bullying or condoning from the sidelines.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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