My niece taught a reception class in which one little boy was becoming the class bully. When rebuked, he blamed other children for upsetting him. Finally, my niece kept him back after school and asked, “Why are you angry?”
Something about his demeanour, a tightly wound little ball of rage and defiance, made her pull out a chair beside her, invite him to sit down and ask him, “Are you angry? Or are you sad? Because sometimes I think you might be sad.”
He flung himself down, put his head on the desk and cried as though heartbroken.
A picture emerged of an older sister at home who teased him beyond endurance, laughed at him with her friends and hid his toys as a joke, and a mum who didn’t realise how rejected he felt.
The feelings he couldn’t express at home, he brought to school. And other children expressed the hurt, when he acted it out against them.
While bullying can never be condoned, it’s worth remembering that anger is never the bottom line: underneath it lie fear and hurt. If those feelings are minimised, or suppressed out of shame, they’ll come out some other way and be delegated to other people.
At this time, there’s a widespread sense of rejection: loss of jobs, security, deprivation of freedom to live as we want, horrible decisions about whom to include or leave out of our ‘bubble’.
It’s tempting to turn it into anger, at whoever …
But actually, it just hurts. And it is OK to say “Ouch!”