It is likely that your child will come across a bully at some time in their school experience. Help your child understand what bullying is, that there are different forms and that it is never acceptable. It is also important to discuss the behaviors that encourage bullying and the actions that can help put an end to bullying. Use the following tips to prevent and deal with bullies.
1. Discuss bullying with your child before the situation arises. Bullying is intentional antagonism that can take a physical (hitting/pushing/knocking books out of hands), verbal (relentless teasing, insults), psychological (mind games) form. Most recently the internet has become a forum for a new form of bullying, “cyber bullying”. Teach your child that it is never acceptable for someone to feel threatened and that if the actions below do not help to defuse the bullying, that it is very important to get a grown up involved.
2. Tell your child that if he/she is being bullied that there are some responses that are more likely to stop the bullying than others. Explain that bullies feel successful when their target gets upset or shows a strong reaction. Instead of getting upset, suggest that your child try some of the following:
*BE DIRECT: say in a confident tone “That is mean, stop teasing”.
*IGNORE the bully completely and move on to some other activity.
*AVOID the bully and try to stay with a friend, an older sibling or a group of friends
*TAKE AWAY THE TARGET: if the bully wants your money, pack your lunch instead.
*WITTY COMEBACK THAT ADDRESSES THE INSULT: respond to “You’re dumb!” with “I know but I do it with style”.
*DISMISS (my personal favorite): “Thanks for sharing!” and walk away.
Remember to rehearse with your children, this will be more fun than you think and the kids will love it.
3. If your child shows signs of being bullied (changes in eating/sleeping, avoidance of school or bus, increase in moodiness) try to gently bring up the topic. If there is an example on TV of bullying you can open this up by saying “Have you ever seen anyone treated like this?” or “What would you do in this situation?” Remember that a child may feel like a failure when they cannot handle this situation on their own and it may be very difficult to come to you. If your child does come to you, control the urge to erupt into dramatic declarations of how you are going to take care of the situation. Put on your best listening ears and use gentle encouragement and reflection. You get a lot more information from “Tell me more” or a “That must have been upsetting” than “Oh my God why didn’t you tell me sooner?!!” or “I am calling them tonight!!” Once you have let your child vent and praise them for being brave enough to talk about it, ask them if they want some suggestions for dealing with the bully. Emphasize that they are doing the right thing in seeking help and go through the tips in #2.
4. If the bullying does not stop, it is your responsibility to get involved. You are not being an over involved parent if your child is being threatened. As highlighted in the news, bullying can escalate to devastating proportions. Many schools have a zero tolerance policy for bullying so involving the teacher, counselor or principal can be beneficial. Sometimes approaching another parent can help but often it is helpful to have the school involved as the mediator. Children are often resistant to contacting the school because they feel like a tattletale. Explain that if you felt threatened at work you would certainly contact the authorities and it is no different for a child.
5. Teach your child not to bully. Start early and teach your children to treat others with respect and kindness. Look closely at your own behavior and the behavior that you tolerate at home. Threats, physical punishment, name calling, antagonism, criticizing differences and yelling can all be forms of bullying. Help children to understand that bullying is serious and will not be tolerated. Look closely for reasons your child may be bullying: are they bullied at home by a parent or sibling? Are they having difficulty dealing with their own insecurities or frustrations? Do they need extra help in conflict resolution? Consider involving the teacher, your child’s pediatrician or a counselor to address the bullying thoroughly and effectively.