Bullying at school has become a national epidemic. According to the National Education Association, more than 160,000 children stay home from school every day due to fear of being bullied. The trouble isn’t just limited to high school and middle school students either, it’s trickled down to even the youngest grade levels.
What exactly is bullying? In a nutshell, it is intentional aggressive behavior that is repeated over time and involves an imbalance of power. Because it involves an imbalance of power, bullying needs adult intervention to stop.
Bullied kids are harassed, threatened, teased, belittled, socially rejected or even assaulted. And it’s not only in person, technology has created a new platform for it called cyber bullying. It can happen through a tweet, Facebook post, text message, video or picture that is meant to embarrass or hurt the victim.
Is Your Child Being Bullied?
There are warning signs to look for if you suspect your child is being bullied at school. Pay attention to:
- Changes in sleeping
- Changes in eating
- Changes in feelings towards school
- Decreased performance at school
- Expressions of fear about school
- Stating that he or she is being mistreated
If you see any of these warning signs, you will want to step in to support your child. This would include talking to your child’s teacher, school counselor or principal to make them aware of the problem. If there is a peer bullying your child and if it is appropriate, contact the parents of the offending child. It could help if you feel they might be receptive to working with you in a cooperative manner.
You can also coach your child to help him or her take steps to avoid being bullied. The best line of defense starts at home.
Bully Proofing Your Child
The first thing you can do as a parent is to talk with your child about bullying. Talk about what it is and how it is different from rude or mean behavior that is not repeated often. Discuss why bullying happens and what it looks like when it does happen. If you experienced bullying as a kid, consider sharing it with your child. This can help them see how you were able to cope and stand up to bullying as well.
After the topic has been discussed, here are some essential actions you can take to help bully-proof your child.
1. Build your child’s confidence
Confidence is one of the most effective ways to ward off a bully. When a bully sees that it is easy to make your child feel bad, it will encourage the behavior to continue as that is what the bully wants. However, if your child communicates through his or her body language, actions and words that the bully cannot hurt him or her, typically the bully will back off.
Show your child the best ways to show confidence. This could be things like:
- Walking and standing with your head up (never down)
- Look other children in the eyes (tell your child to always look at their eye color)
- Speak in a strong firm voice (no whining or crying)
- Comebacks should not be put-downs, but should be spoken firm and to the point:
- “Stop bothering me!”, “I’m not going to play with you if you act mean.”
- “It’s my turn now”, “Hey, stop that!” , “Leave me alone!”
- Or even, “Yeah, whatever” and then walk away
- Keep a calm facial expression. (A child who isn’t easily ruffled has a better chance to not be targeted)
- Laugh and smile when you make mistakes (learn not to take yourself too seriously)
To make this most effective with your child, do some role playing. Practice how to walk, look at and speak to a bully in various situations. Be sure to give your child a lot of praise for his or her efforts during practice. This will help your child believe that he or she can show confidence and stand up to a bully.
2. Buddy system for safety
The key is to avoid being alone anywhere a bully may target your child. Encourage your child to find friends to hang out with on the bus, playground or at school. Two or more friends together at lunch, standing in the hall or walking together are less likely to be targeted by a bully than a child who is all alone.
3. Remove the bait
If there are certain situations that trigger the bullying like grabbing fidget toys, threatening for lunch money, or stealing a baseball cap, then remove the bait that the bully is after. Pack your child’s lunch instead of sending lunch money, leave the hat at home, or use fidget toys outside of school. Removing the bait can help neutralize some situations.
4. Give your child sincere praise
When your child makes efforts to defuse a harasser, let him or her know that you are proud. Listen to your child and show interest in their endeavors. Your encouragement and belief in them will go farther to bolster your child than nearly anything else.
5. Teach them to speak up
Tell your child to talk to a teacher or school counselor right away when a bullying situation happens at school and to also share it with you at home. Your child cannot be expected to fight this battle by himself or herself.
6. Provide a loving and safe environment at home
The primary thing you can offer your child is a home where they feel loved and safe. Knowing that when they come home, they will find shelter emotionally and physically will provide your children with comfort and strength. Allow your child to express feelings without being criticized or shot down. Show interest in what they are interested in. Give sincere praise and words of upliftment.
Keep the lines of communication open by asking subtle questions that show you care like:
- Do you have nice friends at school? What are their names? Who to you hang out with?
- Who do you sit by on the bus and at lunch?
- Are there peers at school who you don’t like much? Why don’t you like them? Do you ever feel picked on or made fun of?
Be sure to pay attention to the answers and how they change over time.
Conflict is a normal part of life. But conflict doesn’t need to be harmful or damaging to one’s moral. Remember that bullying is preventable. Share your knowledge with your kids so that they can learn to handle difficult situations in a positive way.
For more information to help resolve a bullying situation, or if a person is in immediate danger, visit stopbullying.gov