Bullies like to hit on children or teenagers who seem physically or emotionally weaker. Helping your child to be prepared and respond with confidence is, in my opinion, the single most important goal to set for yourself. Here is the best advice I have gleaned from my research on this topic.
1) Find a good opportunity to explain to your child that in a bullying situation, there is something very wrong with the bully and NOTHING wrong with the kid that is picked up. Victims of bullies are often ashamed of themselves and feel they are worthless. Making this clear early on will help your child come to you and talk about it if she actually becomes a victim. Talk to your child as early as you think appropriate, while still in elementary school. If your child doesn’t feel comfortable to talk to you, it will be very difficult to help him.
2) By far the best advice for helping your child remain confident at school is to encourage him/her to have a best friend around. It’s always easier to deal with a bully when you are not alone. Tell you child to ask her best friend to go with her to the bathroom or other places where the bully might hit. Encourage him to do the same for a friend.
3) Playing tough and fighting back physically or verbally will not work. It will probably escalate the situation and may lead to injury. An I-message* the first time round is a good idea but bullying is about being repeatedly picked on and those cases I-messages are a waste of time. Try your best to help your child rehearse ignoring the bully in a confident manner. Sometimes it helps to learn to count to 10 or repeat some phrase in your mind while walking away. You might find opportunities to exercise this kind of anger/hurt feelings control in milder family contexts, e.g., when your child’s sibling becomes annoying etc. This is not easy. But it’s better to try to do it than not.
4) If your child is victimized, it may be a good idea to try to remove the bully “hooks”. For example, if the bully is trying to get your child’s lunch money, give him lunch to take to school instead of money to buy it. Keep in mind, though, that the “hooks” may not always be removable but when they are don’t think you are “yielding” power to the bully by removing. Quite the contrary.
*An I-message is when you use a first person pronoun to explain to somebody causing you unpleasant feelings how you feel, e.g., “When you call me stupid, I feel very bad and I want you to stop calling me that”.
Some good sites to visit
- Stop bullying! Excellent site for parents, teachers, teenagers with useful material, including animated video, to prepare your child. Last accessed 2011/11/22.
- Kids Health on bullying: Very good resource for both parents and children. The articles are reviewed and are written in a clear and straightforward manner. Last accessed 2011/11/22
- Olweus bullying prevention program: A comprehensive, up to date site, with access to bullying laws in each state, current news, and material for teachers, parents, and school administrators. The program is used in many schools to reduce bullying.