Parenting Advice to Help Your Child be Less Likely to be Bullied — What You and Your Child Need to Know
By some estimates, one in seven American schoolchildren is either a bully or a victim. Studies find that 160,000 children skip school every day because they fear being attacked or intimidated. And make no mistake: bullying impedes our children’s learning, boosts their stress, and is disastrous to their emotional health.
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. Here are a few bullying solutions from my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries that I’ve shared with hundreds of parents and teachers. And there’s no better time than now to get educated about bullying and help your child learn a few bully-proofing strategies.
Remember, there is no one bully-proofing solution that works for all kids. And each bullying situation is different. Your goal is to help your child learn a few beginning strategies, and then add more (or switch them up a notch) as needed. The goal in bully-prevention is not just to help kids be aware or even change their perceptions about bullying but to teach them new habits. Kids need to know what to do in situations. And they also need to practice those new skills or habits enough times so they feel comfortable and use the strategies without you.
New research shows that we can now at least predict which kids will be more likely to be targeted. The number one trait: victims appear more vulnerable. While you can’t guarantee that your child will be bullied, you can provide those needed tools so he appears more confident. Here are three beginning steps. I’ll be sharing more in this blog.
Three Steps To Educate You and Your Child About Bullying-Proofing
Step 1. GET EDUCATED ABOUT BULLYING SIGNS
Bullying may be verbal, physical, electronic (via text, cell, email, photo), sexual, or relational. Bullying is also always an intentional cruel act, usually repeated, and a “power imbalance” (one child cannot hold her own against the other child — the bully). Bullying is never just teasing.
Chances are if your child is bullied he won’t tell you, so watch for changes in your child’s typical behavior. Here are warnings that a child may be bullied and needs your support. Of course, there may be other reasons for these behaviors, so dig further and find the cause.
- Unexplained physical marks, cuts, bruises and scrapes, or torn clothing
- Unexplained loss of toys, school supplies, clothing, lunches, or money
- Afraid to be left alone: doesn’t want to go to school; afraid of riding the school bus; wants you there at dismissal, suddenly clingy.
- Suddenly sullen, withdrawn, evasive; remarks about feeling lonely
- Marked changed in typical behavior or personality
- Physical complaints; headaches, stomachaches, frequent visits the school nurse’s office
- Difficulty sleeping, nightmares, cries self to sleep, bed wetting
- Begins bullying siblings or younger kids
- Waits to get home to use the bathroom
- Ravenous when he comes home (lunch money or lunch may be stolen)
- Sudden and significant drop in grades; difficulty focusing and concentrating
Step 2. REDUCE YOUR CHILD’S CHANCES OF BEING A TARGET
- Stop rescuing. If you want your child to stick up for herself, then don’t be so quick to step in and solve her problems or speak for her. Kids need practice being assertive so when the moment comes when they do need to stand up to a bully, they can. Start by stepping back. Don’t speak for your child. But be on the sidelines to help him or her know what to say or do better the “next time.”
- 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 the places bullies are most likely to frequent (known as “Hot Spots”) and then tell your child to avoid those areas.
- Find a supportive companion. Tell your child there is sometimes safety in numbers. Kids who have even one friend to confide in can deal with bullying better than those on their own. Help your child identify one kid he can pair up with. If he doesn’t have one, it’s time to boost his friendship circle. He also needs to know a supportive adult he can go to at school and share his concerns.
- Tell your child you’ll take him seriously. Research finds that 49 percent of kids say they’ve been bullied at least once or twice during the school term but only 32 percent of their parents believed them. So reassure your child that you’ll believe him and encourage him to come to you. Let him know that you know that bullying is a problem, that it’s happening to a lot of kids so if it happens to him you will find a way to keep him safe.
Step 3. TEACH BEGINNING BULLY-PROOFING STRATEGIES
The final step is to teach your child new habits so he learns to assert himself safely and be less likely to be targeted in the future. Keep in mind that there is no “perfect” strategy. The trick is to find what works best for your child – or a variation of that strategy – and then practice it over and over until your child feels comfortable using it without you. Here are bully-proofing strategies every child should know:
- Use strong body posture. Kids less likely to be picked on use assertive posture. Teach your child to stand tall and hold his head up to appear more confident and less vulnerable.
- Stay calm and do not react. Bullies love power and knowing they can push other kids’ buttons, so tell your child “Try to not let his tormentor know he upset you.” Stress to your child to never cry, insult, or threaten a bully or he will only escalate things.
- Say no using a firm voice. Teach 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.” “Stop.” “Back off.” Then walk away with shoulders held back. Pleading (“Please stop that”) or feeling-laden messages (“It really makes feel mad when you do that”) rarely work.
- Use a stone-faced glare. Practice using a mean stare that goes straight through the bully so you seem in control and not bothered.
- Leave the scene. Stress that your child should leave the scene as soon as possible. Ideally he should walk towards other kids or an adult. Don’t look back. Get help if you need to. Fight only as a very last resort if you must defend yourself.
- Boost self-confidence. Research finds that arming your child with confidence is one of the best defenses against bullying. Kids who lack confidence are more likely to be victimized. A few self-confidence boosters include learning martial arts, boxing, or weight-lifting, finding an avenue—such as a hobby, interest, sport, or talent–that she enjoys and can excel, giving her opportunities to solve her problems and speak up for herself.
This is also a great time to review your school’s handbook and website. Do they have a bully prevention program in place? What are the steps they suggest a parent take if their child is a target? Review those rules and procedures with your child now can help reduce a problem later. And if your school does not have a program then it may be time to start chatting with the principal and other parents about the need for one.
Michele Borba is the renowned consultant and educator — recipient of the National Educator Award and author of seven outstanding parenting books from Jossey-Bass/Wiley, including: Parents Do Make a Difference, named by Child Magazine as an “outstanding parenting book of the year”, Building Moral Intelligence, which Publisher’s Weekly called “one of the most significant books published in 2001″, and the Spring 2003 publication No More Misbehavin’ She is a frequent guest on the Today Show, The View, Fox & Friends, NPR, and other broadcast media in the US and Canada. She is on the editorial board of Parents Magazine and an expert columnist online for Oxygen Media. Michele travels constantly, speaking before large groups of parents and educators, but also has three adult sons and lives with her husband, a public school administrator, in Palm Springs, California. Visit Michele’s website here and follow her on twitter.