Incidents like the shooting at Columbine have brought wide spread attention to the epidemic of bullying at schools, making it appear as if it is a new issue. The truth is that there have been bullies on the playgrounds and hallways of schools since the onset of education; and they are likely here to stay. In fact, even adults are forced to deal with bullies, whether in line at the grocery store or at the workplace. The most effective thing a parent can do is teach their child life skills and coping strategies which will help them avoid being a victim, or victimized by bullies in school and beyond.
Due to a frenzy of media attention about bullying and violence in schools, many parents are fearful about sending their children to school each day. What few realize is that violent acts and crimes committed on school grounds during school hours have actually been steadily declining since 1994. According to statistics compiled by the Department of Justice and released by the National Department of Education, school violence, students feeling threatened during school and other criminal activity are low. On the other hand, around half of all students in grades 6th 12th grade say they have been the victim of persistent bullying at least once; with bullying being most common in 6th grade. Of these students, around 1/3rd are physically injured due to instances of bullying.
Luckily, most school districts have put regulations in place that clearly define bullying and identify consequences for students. In addition to that, cyber bullying, off and beyond school hours is routinely being considered criminal both at school and with local police authorities. Still, laws and rules don’t protect your child. What protects your child is knowing how to stop bullying from happening, before it even begins.
Before you can begin to help your child, you have to be aware of the psychology behind a bully. First of all, the National Institute of Psychology deems a bully ‘a person engaged in the pattern of deliberately harming and humiliating others.’ They further add that bullies are created by their victims and continue to bully for the simple reason that their tactics normally work. If your child has been bullied, than they have been chosen very carefully by the bully, normally due to traits like an obvious lack of assertiveness, insecurity, and fear, disbelief in aggression, a quiet nature, or a desperate desire to fit in or please others. Luckily, mom and dad can help in all of these areas.
1. Teach your Child to Be Assertive!
Start early in life teaching and allowing your child to speak their mind. Many parents force children to always use their manners, not hurt people’s feeling, to be nice to everyone etc’ not realizing that this can make them a victim. Instead, make sure you teach your child to use their voice. It is okay (and recommended) for a child to say things like, ‘I don’t want to do that,’ ‘you cant talk to me that way,’ ‘I don’t have to do what you say,’ ‘You are not the boss of me,’ or even, ‘you are nothing but a big bully!’ Make sure you child learns as early in life as possible that no one can put their hands on them. Tell them if a child pushes or shoves them in gym class, they should react with ‘Don’t push me,’ using a firm voice. Teach your child how to use an assertive voice, looking someone square in the eye and holding their ground if they believe they are being mistreated. This is an important life skill. If you have an older child who turns into a shrinking violet around others practice role playing assertiveness at home. Similarly, instruct your children how to stand up for themselves, to use a strong voice and to not become a victim. When a child learns and knows that it is always okay to demand respect from others they are less likely to be targeted by bullies. Because of the personality traits exhibited by bullies, kids who strike back with strong words and wit immediately are normally not continuously targeted. Most importantly, this can be done without violence.
2. Help Build Your Child’s Confidence!
Low self-esteem and poor confidence are not uncommon traits. Help your child learn to make friends and engage in activities that build character and self-confidence. Often parents enroll their children, young and older in sports with the hopes of building confidence and a friend base. Yet many kids, who don’t excel at sports, don’t particularly enjoy competitive venues. Instead, find things that your child is interested in, whether it is art, music, running, swimming, book clubs etc. In higher levels of school, theatrical or drama clubs normally receive large turnouts and can be a good way for your child to find their niche. Extra curricular activities should always be supervised as well, and they give your child the protection of a group environment.
3. Teach Your Child How to Use the Buddy System & Improve Socialization
Most bullies target just one child at a time because that is all they can handle. If your child is often alone or seems to be quiet and shy, encourage them to walk with friends at school, eat lunch with a group and limit their time they can be targeted. If your child walks home from school, find someone that they can walk home with. Also, if you see that your child has problems making friends with other kids try to help them as much as possible by organizing playgroups or trips with other children. Research indicates that children who are socially submissive are more likely to be targeted. It may take time, but some children just need some careful coercion to come out of their shells.
4. Teach your Child About Internet Safety and Bullying
Among teens, cyber bullying is reaching all time highs with an estimated 45% of all children falling victim. One of the problems in cyber bullying is that children often don’t know who their attacker is, and the humiliation plays out in front of hundreds of schoolmates. If your child has a MySpace or Facebook, make sure you have access to it at all times so you can delete and monitor comments. Additionally, teach your child about the ramifications of negligent posting and the windfall it can cause for them at school and beyond.
5. Show Your Child You Understand How they Feel
For many kids who are targeted by bullies, they feel even more insecure and fearful. In fact, long term bullying can lead to depression in teens. Whether your child is in elementary school or high school, make sure they know that you understand how they feel. Resonate with how awful it must feel to be bullied, and how frightening it can be to feel powerless. Talk to them about how you were bullied, about a bully that you knew growing up. Find some appropriate grade level books on the subject. Also, inform your child that there are plenty of kids in their same school being bullied by this same person. Encourage them to make friends with these kids, to band together against the bullying. The point is, when your child sees and feels that they are not alone in their struggle they will be able to regain some of their power and feel comfortable talking to you and other adults about what is happening. Also, middle and high schools likely have anti-bullying groups or organizations that your child can join to remain part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.
6. Talk, talk, and talk to your Kids!
Don’t be fooled thinking that talk is cheap. In ALL of the cases where bullying ended in a teen suicide – teachers, parents and other students admit to knowing about the warning signs. Still, most agree that they never thought it would get that far. Talk to your child about what they do at school every day. Often, kids feel that a parent only wants to know the ‘good’ things that happened at school. Yes, these are important but start asking your teen about who the ‘mean kids’ are at school. If you engage a middle or high schooler in one of these conversations, you might be surprised what they willingly tell you. Often, they may give you the clues you need to help them out of a situation before it escalates to bullying. Whatever you do, if your child seems hurt, depressed, or emotionally upset about a certain child in their school don’t side with that child. Refrain from asking your child to feel sorry for this kid, or to just ‘be nice!’Instead, realize there may be a very firm reason they don’t like someone and offer coping strategies for avoiding them.
7. Show Your Child that They Have Options
Many parents teach their child not to hit first, but to hit back when hit. Questionable, but definitely understandable. Perhaps a better coping skill is to show your child how to cope with a bully in an effective way that keeps them out of trouble. If they have tried standing up to a bully and are assertive – then it is time for your child to report the behavior to a school authority. Ask your child to do this alone at first and see if it improves. However, if it doesn’t or the situation escalates demand to meet with administrators and board members as well as police. Most bullies count on the fact that their targets won’t tell out of fear. Make sure your child knows that anyone who threatens them for telling is just bluffing. For many young children and teens, the fear of being further humiliated can make them complacent to taking the abuse. The truth is they can turn to others at any age.
8. Parental Involvement
Obviously, you are involved in your child’s life. The truth is your involvement in their school life from as early as possible is perhaps the most important factor in your child not being targeted by bullies. Make sure that teachers and administrators see you are an involved parent who will take matters seriously. Show up at the school and get to know both school employees and the children that are around your child every day. Your presence will give your child confidence and make them feel safe. Additionally, you can witness first hand personality traits of your child that might make them more susceptible to bullying. This way you can help them, before bullying starts.