Stop a bully: talk, walk, squawk, and support

photo by Lexi Logan

photo by Lexi Logan

Can you identify your child in any of these scenarios?

-Your second grader comes off the school bus crying because another student was teasing him the entire ride home about his new glasses.
-Your fifth grader was punched on the school yard by a sixth grader and none of the playground teachers saw it happen. Your child’s friend shoved the older child off your child before more damage was done.
-Your ninth grader keeps missing the school bus so you have to drive her to school.  When she comes home from school she uses the bathroom immediately. You find out she avoids the bus and the school bathroom because kids make fun of her in both places.

Whatever your child’s age, when you realize he or she is being bullied you will be outraged. In fact you might be tempted to retaliate against the bully yourself. However, here are more appropriate ways to help your child.

Bullying should never be tolerated. Teach your child how to directly deal with a bully, but be quick to talk also to the adult supervising your child when the bullying occurs. Your child should always feel safe in school, day camp, on a sports team, or any other adult-supervised activity.

Bullies are always in a position of power over their victims; either they are physically larger, older, or more socially popular. Teach your child first to try a strong verbal response (talk) such as “STOP talking to me that way!” or “Don’t DO that to me!” Speaking strongly and looking the bully in the eye may take away some of the bully’s power as well as attract attention of nearby peers or adults who can help your child.

Teach your child to walk away from a fight. Tell him to keep on walking toward a teacher, a classroom, a peer, or anyone else who can offer safety from a bully. Train him to breathe deeply/ignore/de-escalate situations to diffuse a bully’s anger.

Have your child tell a teacher, camp counselor, coach, or other supervising adult about the abuse (squawk) as soon as it occurs. Always encourage your children to talk to you as well. Remember at home to ask your child questions such as “How is school,” “How are your friends,” “Do you know any kids who are being bullied?,” and “Are YOU being bullied?” Dr. Lai always advises her patients to tell as many different adults as possible if he is not feeling safe. Even if one adult is unsure of how to help, sooner or later some one will.

If your child says he is angry at a friend or a classmate, be sure to ask questions that encourage your child to elaborate, such as “Oh, what happened?” or “Did something happen between you?” Listen carefully to his response. He may be taking out his anger at a bully on his own friends. This response is in retaliation for his friend’s failure to protect him from a bully. Also, is your child becoming more reluctant to attend school, “missing” the bus more often and thus requiring a ride, or acting angry or sad more often? Kids who are victims of bullying can act like this.

In school, once you are aware that your child is a victim, talk not only to your child about how she should handle a bully but also alert your child’s teacher and/or school principal about the situation (support). You should tell them in your child’s words what happened, what was said, and be clear that you are asking for more supervision so that the bully has less access to your child. Ask for more supervision during times when there is usually less adult presence such as in the lunchroom or on the schoolyard. Your school may already have a “no bullying” policy. Often, the aggressor gets the heavier consequence in the event of a conflict.  Again, children have a right to feel safe in school.

Restore your child’s self-confidence. Bullies pick on kids who are smaller and weaker than they are, physically as well as psychologically. So your child has more positive experiences with kids who do not bully, encourage your child to invite friends over to your home or host a fun group activity (kickball game in your backyard, show a movie/supply popcorn, etc.). Do family activities and show your child that you enjoy spending time with him. Enroll your child in activities that increase his self esteem such as karate, sports, or music lessons.  A child who feels good about himself “walks taller” and is less likely to attract a bully

As a parent, you might read this post and think, “Yes, but I’d rather just teach my child to take revenge.” Unfortunately, escalating the situation only breeds anger and in fact may get your child into trouble. Rather than “hate” the bully, help your child see that a bully deep down feels insecure. A bully resorts to making himself feel better by making others feel bad. Teach your child to pity the bully. With your guidance, your child will project self-confidence and a bully will never, ever, be able to touch him.

While the topic of cyper-bullying could occupy an entire separate post, we just want to alert you to the power that social media has over our kids as well. Ask your kids and teens directly about bullying that occurs on-line just as you would ask about bullying at school. Virtual bullying, unfortunately, is just as potentially harmful as in-person bulling, and is a known risk factor for teen suicide. Remind your children how important it is to refrain from revenge: better to disengage from social media than to respond to on-line bullying because your child will leave a permanent footprint on their on-line presence. Lay down the general rule of never posting anything negative (even a simple “dislike”) online.

Help your child talk, walk, squawk and seek support. All kids deserve to feel secure in themselves and in the world around them.

Additional resources:

The American Academy of Pediatrics

Stopbullying.gov—Bully prevention site managed by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Cyberbullying Research Center—an organization dedicating to providing up to date information on cyberbullying

Teaching tolerance— a site where parents and educators can learn ways to foster tolerance

Julie Kardos, MD and Naline Lai, MD
© 2016, 2010  Two Peds in a Pod®

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