Deal with Bullies
How you can help your child stop bullies in their tracks.
Many people believe that bullying is just a part of growing up. As most of us will be bullied at some point in our lives, it’s easy to dismiss the playground tough-guy as a character building part of childhood. But there is no reason your child should be tormented inside or outside of school. Here’s a look at how you can help your kids help themselves.
What is bullying? More than just name calling or stealing a favorite pencil, bullying is about power. A bully obviously has the upper hand in the confrontation, and uses intimidation and threats to get what he or she wants. The bully might be older or physically bigger than his or her target, or might have a group of friends to help him or her. While spats among equals usually take place out in the open, bullying takes place out of sight.
How do I know if my child is being bullied? While ideally your child will tell you directly if something is wrong, children can be shy when it comes to admitting they’re having a problem with a bully. Some signs are obvious – torn clothing or unexplained bruises or scrapes are examples of physical violence. But not all bullying comes to blows. Here are some other warning signs that your child is being bullied:
- Reluctant to go to school, the park, or leave home
- Experiencing a sudden drop in grades
- Coming home hungry from having missed lunch or a snack
- Acting nervous around new people
- Showing increased anger or resentment for no obvious reason
- Talking about feeling lonely
- Reluctant to defend himself or herself when teased
Why is my child being bullied? Bullies look for someone weaker to push around, especially someone without a network of friends to support him or her. Children who are shy, spend a lot of time on their own, and who lack the confidence to stand up for themselves are easy targets as they seem unlikely to fight back. Children that have trouble controlling their emotions, for example crying or getting angering easily, are also appealing targets as a bully will make a game of seeing how upset he or she can make the other child. A bully might pick on another child for being especially chatty or fidgety. A child of a different race, ethnicity, or someone with a disability might also be a target, but that relates more to the child not having a support network to defend him or her.
What can I do? When your child is having a tough time, your natural inclination will be to come to his or her rescue, but fighting your child’s battles won’t help him or her in the long run. It is better to coach your child through the problem rather than enforcing a solution (no matter how tempting it is).
A preemptive measure for dealing with bullies is to inspire your child to be confident and outgoing. Teaching your children to be happy with whom they are will make it easier to brush off mean remarks if they get a bad hair cut or someone doesn’t like their shirt. They may even be able to disappoint the bully by making their own jokes and getting people to laugh with them instead of at them. They will also benefit from having friends around to support them if a bully tries to single them out.
If your son or daughter likes to spend recess or after school time reading or in other solitary activities, encourage him or her to keep an eye on what’s happening around your child. Bullies don’t want other people – especially adults – to see that they’re bothering someone. By staying near other activity, your son or daughter can ask to join in a game or get the attention of other children if he or she is bothered by a bully.
You can also help prepare your child for the times when he or she may face a bully on his or her own:
- Encourage your child to breathe deeply to help him or her stay calm. This will give your child a chance to think rather than just reacting emotionally.
- Remember that many bullies are just having fun watching others get upset. The best way to beat them is to make them believe they can’t bother you.
- If a bully tries to insult your child, have him or her repeat “So?” or any sentence that suggests that your child doesn’t care. The tormentor will eventually get bored and leave, but your child needs to keep at it even if the bully resorts to mimicry or other nasty tricks.
- If the bully won’t leave, your child can always walk away from the situation. If the bully follows, they can keep dodging.
Remember to encourage your child to get help if he or she thinks there is any danger. Sure, no one wants to be a tattle-tale, but explain your children that “tattling” only gets someone in trouble, but “telling” will get them or someone else out of trouble.
If your child has an on-going problem with a bully, you may need to take more involved measures:
- If the bullying is happening at school or with a schoolmate, ask a teacher or principle to mediate.
- If the school won’t get involved, contact the bully’s parents and discuss the situation and agree on an appropriate course of action.
- Arrange a meeting of the families in a public place to work out the details. You may want a neutral third party present to keep the discussion on track.
- Have each of the children bring a written account of the bullying to meeting to read aloud. This will give the bullied child a chance to face his or her tormentor and ask for an apology while forcing the bully to be held accountable for his or her actions.
- Plan to follow up with the parents.
- Discuss the meeting afterward with your child and work on strategies in case he or she has future problems with bullies.