Bullying is always intentional, mean-spirited, rarely happens only once and the victim cannot hold his own. It is not teasing. If this is happening to your child, please know that your son or daughter is not alone. By some estimates, one in seven American schoolchildren is either a bully or a victim. Reports confirm that bullying is starting at younger ages and is far more frequent and aggressive than ever before.
While you can’t always be there to step in and protect your child there are ways to help your son or daughter be less likely to be victimized. I reviewed hundreds of studies to find tips for educators and parents and wrote a proposal to end school violence that became SB1667. I learned that bullying is learned and it also is preventable. We are waiting too late to teach our kids critical skills to help them be less likely to be targeted. There is no one sure-proof solution so experiment and find what works best for your child’s situation. Here are some of the best tips to help bully-proof your child.
- Start the talk now! So start talking to your child about bullying before it ever happens. Tell your child you are always available and recognize it is a growing problem. You want your child to come to you and not suffer in silence.
- Stop rescuing. Children need practice to speak up and be assertive so when the moment comes that they do need to stand up to a bully, they can. Always rescuing can create the conditions under which a child can become a victim.
- Avoid areas where bullies prey. Bullying usually happens in unsupervised adult areas such as hallways, stairwells, playgrounds (under trees and equipment, in far corners), lockers, parks and bathrooms in places such as malls, schools, parks and even libraries. Teach your child about “hot spots” (places most likely to be frequently by bullies), and then tell him to avoid those areas.
- Offer specific tips. Most kids can’t handle bullying on their own: they need your help, so provide a plan. For instance, if bullying is happening on the bus tell your child to sit behind the bus driver on the left side where the driver can see passengers in the mirror, ask an older kid to “watch out” for your child, or offer to pick your child up from school.
- Teach assertiveness. Kids less likely to be picked on, use assertive posture. Stress to your child that he should stand tall and hold his head up to appear more confident and less vulnerable. Practice. Practice. Practice!
- Stay calm and don’t react. Bullies love knowing they can push other kids’ buttons, so tell your child to try to not let his tormentor know he upset you.
- Teach a firm voice. Stress to your child that if he needs to respond, simple direct commands work best delivered in a strong determined voice: “No.” “Cut it out.” “No way.” “Back off.” Then walk away with shoulders held back.
- Get help if needed. Tell your child to walk towards other kids or an adult.
- Find a supportive companion. Kids who have even one friend to confide in can deal with bullying better than those on their own. Is there one kid your child can pair up with? Is there a teacher, nurse, or neighbor he can go to for support? You may need to go to the teacher and principal and advocate!
- Don’t make promises. You may have to protect your child, so make no promises to keep things confidential. You may have to step in and advocate. Do so if ever your child’s emotional or physical safety is at stake.
Tomorrow I’ll address what to do if the bullying escalates and becomes more serious. Today we start by tuning in closer to our children. Please! Repeated bullying causes severe emotional harm and erodes fragile self-esteem. No child should ever have to deal with such cold-blooded cruelty.
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Dr. Michele Borba is the author of over 22 books including the upcoming The Big Book of Parenting Solutions available this fall.
One to 7 ratio of school children as bully or victim cited by C. Goodnow, “Bullying Is a Complex, Dangerous Game in Which Everyone’s a Player,” Seattle Post-Intelligence, Sept. 1, 1999.
One in three children between grades 6 and 10 are involved in bullying as either victim or bully: A. Jones, “One in Three Kids Involved in Bullying, Statistics Show,” Cox News Service.