The other day, I had a parent ask if I thought bullying was becoming more and more of a problem in the world today. I thought for a moment, and presented my answer:
I don’t believe it’s the bullying itself that has become more prevalent – I think the act of bullying has been just as big of a problem as it was twenty years ago. I believe it’s our awareness of it that has become more prevalent. With the emergence of social media and cyber-bullying, society’s attention to the matter has shifted substantially causing more and more people to be apprised to it.
As a victim of severe bullying myself (a little more than 20 years ago), I can attest to the fact that the issue itself has been there all along. With the aforementioned addition of cyber-bullying into the mix, I strongly feel that if that had been a part of it back then it would have been even more difficult to withstand. The bullying I experienced was pretty much isolated to while I was at school, so I was at least able to escape from it when I wasn’t there. Had social media been around back then, there would have been virtually no escape from it – and I don’t know what I would have done had that been the case.
Bullying is a far more serious issue than some people would think. It can be very psychologically damaging for children and can have an indelible effect on them for their entire lives. To this day the scars from my childhood bullying haunt me, making it near impossible to get me out onto a dance floor. I would get invited to parties simply because their parents made them invite me – and then shortly after arriving, I would call my parents crying, begging them to come pick me up because I was being made fun of for the way I was dancing. I honestly have no idea whatsoever if I’m actually even any good at dancing, because for the last 20 years or so I’ve been too afraid to do it. Under very rare circumstances, you might find me dancing for a brief moment in time. But it’s usually with the help of some liquid courage.
The sad and unfortunate truth is that there is really nothing you can do to completely prevent your child from being bullied. However, I have comprised a list of 7 tools you can give your child to help protect them from or deal with bullying. If some of these things had been more engrained in me when I was a child, I might have had a different experience growing up.
#1 – Acceptance.
In today’s society, there is this incessant need to feel perfect – to feel flawless. It is a good idea to focus on teaching your child that it is okay to have flaws, to make mistakes, to [fill in the blank]. Teach them that without flaws, we would no longer be unique. Without mistakes, we wouldn’t be able to learn and grow. Teach them that in the grand scheme of things, tiny little mistakes are just that: tiny. Show them this is true by setting an example – watch out how you respond to mistakes and/or flaws when you’re around your child. The biggest thing to influence a child’s behavior and development is the actions of and interactions with the adults they are surrounded by on a daily basis. By losing your temper over spilled milk in front of your child, you teach them that it is customary to have the same response.
#2 – Confidence.
One of the biggest tools in this toolbox is going to be your child’s level of confidence. The more confident and secure they are with themselves, the more resilient they become in the face of bullying. Encourage them. Praise them. Get noticeably excited for them when they accomplish something they’ve been working at and do a great job with it. Most importantly – make it genuine. If a child is overly praised or celebrated for every achievement – even those that were either underwhelming or needed improvement – two things happen. For one, the novelty of it wears off after some time along with the positive psychological effects. Secondly, when a child is awarded for something that could have been improved upon, they learn that any effort will do and that the quality of their effort doesn’t really matter. It’s like “participation trophies” – when everybody gets a trophy, the actual winners’ trophies don’t have as much meaning or value anymore. When you celebrate your child’s successes, really celebrate. If there’s room for improvement, start back at #1 and encourage them to improve. In the teaching industry, we use the “PCP” rule: praise, correct, praise. When giving your child feedback on needing to improve what they’re working on, praise something about it that they did well, correct the area that needs correcting, and then praise one other thing that they also did well. After all the hard work on making improvements, the final praise in the end will be even more meaningful and effective – and boost their confidence and belief in themselves.
#3 – Self-Love & Self-Worth.
This one goes hand-in-hand with #1 and #2. Once your child learns that it is okay to make mistakes and they are able to correct and learn from them, it should help them in understanding how to love themselves. When one truly learns to love the person they are unconditionally, it becomes that much harder for any negative outside influence to shake their foundation. And when one knows and understands their worth, no amount of outside influence can depreciate it.
One of the best ways to help them understand this is to show them, again by setting the example. When you speak about yourself in front of them, what sort of things do you say? When you belittle yourself in front of your child, you teach them to start criticizing themselves in the same way. Always be conscious of the way you speak and carry yourself around them. Even if you’re speaking candidly on the phone with your closest friend, if your child is in the same room they will still pick up on what you say and do. A step further? Be aware of how you speak about others in front of them as well; if they learn it is okay to criticize and/or speak negatively about someone else, this can not only teach them that it is acceptable to do so, but will make them impose the same sort of criticism on themselves.
#4 – Understanding.
Making sure your child understands that the reason they are/were being bullied is not their fault is crucial. There is a multitude of reasons why a child (or adult) might bully another, and those reasons are rooted in the bully himself/herself. Make sure that your child understands this, and that there really isn’t anything wrong with them – that the bully is lashing out for reasons having nothing to do with your child at all.
A bully might have grown up physically and/or emotionally abused him/herself, so that sort of interaction might be what they learned and believe that it is “normal.” Bullying could also stem from a lack of attention at home. Children who do not receive enough positive attention and feedback from their parents will tend to act out in any way they can to get the attention they crave – even if it’s negative attention, they are still receiving attention, period. A child who bullies another could also be driven by jealousy – this is a big one. Bullies will look for other things that they can pick on someone for in order to sort of “mask” out what they are jealous of; by focusing on what they think is negative about the person, it draws the attention away from what they are jealous of and helps them feel better about themselves. (Make sure and stress the fact that the “negative” things are strictly from the bully’s point of view, and that everybody’s opinion is going to be different – it’s not about whether they’re right or wrong.)
#5 – Neutralization.
The worst thing a child can do is respond to bullying with bullying. This will only make matters worse, ultimately provoking them to continue – the bully will get a rise out of any response fueled with anger or heightened emotion. Instead, teach your child to respond with kindness or indifference. (Which can be easier said than done, but with enough coaching it can be done.)
There is an incredible youth motivational speaker named Brooks Gibbs who focuses a lot on children’s emotional health and bullying in particular. He outlines the above point perfectly in the following video:
#6 – Speaking Up.
A child should never be afraid to tell an adult when they are being bullied. The inevitable “tattler” response is almost always the immediate reaction – which in itself is just a continuation of the bullying. A lot of times the child will feel like it’s pointless to tell on the bully because of the “tattler” response, and will give up after telling the first or second time. However, persistence is the key.
Teach your child that it is okay to tell an adult whenever they are being bullied, no matter how many times they have to tell. A lot of schools now have strict anti-bullying rules in place and will not tolerate repeat offenders, so when a child makes multiple complaints about a particular bully, the appropriate action should be taken according to the school’s policy.
#7 – Stepping In.
In the event that the school doesn’t follow through on taking action or the action they take is ineffective, it is then your turn as a parent to step in and bring out the big guns.
Request a meeting with the principal and the bully’s parents. When the parents are physically brought into the situation, the point tends to get across more effectively than simple phone calls or notes sent home from the teacher. Most times this will make a noticeable difference, and the bullying will either cease or become significantly reduced. Should the off chance occur that this doesn’t make a difference, request a follow-up meeting with both the principal and the other child’s parents. Again, persistence is the key. At this point in time, it may be suitable to ask that either the bully or your child be transferred to another classroom (if your child’s school has multiple classrooms for their grade level). On the extreme end of things, there is always homeschooling as an option – this was the decision my parents finally made when the bullying would not subside, and I actually ended up being the first student ever to be homeschooled through that school.
Bullying has been a serious issue for decades. It is only in recent years that society has begun to take things more seriously and more widespread action has taken place. People are becoming more aware of the damaging effects of bullying – including the risks of suicide – and the United States Government has even formed an organization against bullying. And while social media has added to the ways in which a bully can inflict their damage, it is partly social media that we have to thank for the increased awareness of the issue. Talk about a catch-22…
⇒ SEE ALSO: Why Perfect is Just a Pipe-Dream.
Useful & Related:
- Stomp Out Bullying: Change the Culture
- The Bully Project
- “Understanding the Psychology of the Bully” – Dr. Mary C. Lamia
- Brooks Gibbs (I highly recommend checking him out!)
Is your child facing bullying issues at school? What strategies have you employed to help your child avoid or get through it? Questions, thoughts, and suggestions welcome! Please feel free to comment below!