I was driving my older daughters to camp yesterday, and we were talking about bullies. Specifically, we were talking about WHY people choose to bully others.
I have noticed that many people dismiss bullies with simple labels, calling them “jerks” or “bad people” or “assholes”. And while it may be true that some bullies are genuinely born without a moral compass, this oversimplifies the problem. Not every bully is a horrible person without hope of redemption, but chances are that a bully has not learned what it means to empathize.
The ability to feel empathy is a key factor in predicting who will treat others with respect and who will be cruel and disdainful. Not everyone is naturally empathetic, so it is really important to teach it. Even if you cannot teach someone how to be empathetic, you CAN teach them how to interact with other people respectfully. You can teach a child that he can choose to dislike another kid, but that does not entitle him to be mean.
With empathy in mind, I was asking my girls why they think some kids come to school and pick on others.
Eight-year-old Katie offered, “Well, maybe they are really angry because someone they loved passed away and they are taking it out on other kids.”
“Maybe,” I said.
“Maybe they were working on something and they couldn’t do it and got frustrated and now they are angry and mad,” suggested five-year-old Annie Rose.
“Possibly,” I replied.
Katie thought a minute and decided, "I think bullies just need to eat a better breakfast.”
Annie Rose: "Yeah! I'm a lot less crabby after I eat.”
Katie: "Maybe eggs and pistachio nuts for protein."
Annie Rose: "Or plain dark chocolate! Because some people are allergic to nuts. What if the bully is allergic to nuts?"
Katie: “Like you, Annie Rose! You are allergic to nuts.”
Annie Rose: “Yes, but I am NOT a bully. Probably because I eat a lot of chocolate.”
Katie: “Well, I think everyone needs to eat some chocolate in order to make sure they don’t go to school and bully others.”
I sat, listening and laughing, wondering how my conversation on empathy became a campaign to convert the bullies of the world, one dark chocolate bar at a time.
I had completely lost control of this discussion. In fact, now the girls believed that chocolate intake was the predicting factor of whether or not someone would be a bully. But maybe they were onto something. After all, when my kids have low blood sugar, they are impossibly growly bears, and we do often eliminate nasty behavior simply by feeding them.
And who could possibly feel crabby after eating some 70% cacao?
Hershey’s? Ghiradelli? Cadbury? Anyone? It seems like you all have marketed every possible kind of chocolate bar imaginable. Wrong! Katie and Annie Rose have discovered a new product for you:
The Anti-Bully Bar.
We’ll do our part. We parents will teach the kids about empathy and empowerment, about social emotional skills and how to resolve conflict. We will teach them about respect for self and others and about friendship and how to properly use digital technology. We will talk with them about how to be a witness or an ally instead of a mere bystander when they witness cruelty.
But, if all else fails, we can tuck an Anti-Bully Bar in their bag. A secret weapon to disarm the bully. They can pull it out and hand it to the offender, insisting the bully take a 5-minute time out to eat the chocolate and wait to feel better.
A kinder, gentler, more chocolatey world.
Katie and Annie Rose will donate their royalties to bullying prevention.
Carrie Goldman is the author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kids Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.