By Sensei Serge Sognonvi and Carmen Sognonvi
Originally published at http://www.urbandojo.com/blog
Why? Because the worst thing you can do is to give your child mixed messages. For example, you don’t want to tell your child to walk away from the bully, then turn around and say, “Actually, next time you should fight back.”
Here are 7 steps you can take to formulate a clear strategy on how you’re going to handle it if your child is being bullied.
1. Immediately give your child positive reinforcement
If your child confided in you that she is being bullied, praise her for being brave enough to talk about it. Let her know that many kids are too afraid or ashamed to tell anyone when they’re being bullied, so the fact that she opened up about it took a lot of courage.
Also, make it clear to your child that the bullying was not her fault. A bullied child will often feel a sense of shame. She may think she did something to bring about this kind of behavior. It’s important to emphasize to your child that bullies behave the way they do because there’s something wrong with them, not something wrong with the bullied child.
2. Listen closely and play detective
Ask your child to explain to you exactly what happened. You’ll undoubtedly be feeling emotional, but try your best not to interrupt your child or make any outbursts (“I can’t believe that horrible boy said that to you!”). It’s important for your child to feel that he’s being heard, and that you care about his feelings, so listening actively is critical.
Also, think of yourself as being on a fact-finding mission. You want to find out what, if anything, set the bully off, what exactly the bully did or said to your child, how your child responded, how the bully reacted to your child’s response, who else was there to witness the event, how they reacted, and so on.
You want to gather as many facts as you can so you can better understand the circumstances surrounding the bullying. Also, you want to find out what the bully’s reaction was to your child’s response. If you know what doesn’t work, it’s easier to figure out what will work.
3. Help your child brainstorm ways to respond to a bully
Most parents simply tell their children what they should do next time they’re targeted by a bully. But that doesn’t do much to boost their confidence in their own ability to handle a situation.
Instead of telling your child what to do, involve her in brainstorming ideas about how to handle a bully. This will make her feel much more empowered.
Ask her questions such as: “If this happens again in the future, what do you think you can say or do in response?” Then ask follow-up questions, based on her answer: “If you call the bully a name, what do you think will happen then?” This way, your child can think through the consequences of each option and decide whether or not it’s a good tactic.
Suggest different possible responses and see how your child feels about using them. Here are some anti-bullying tactics recommended by parenting expert Michele Borba:
- Question the response: “Why would you want to tell me I am dumb and hurt my feelings?”
- Use “I want” and speak firmly: “I want you to leave me alone.”
- Agree with the teaser: Teaser: “You’re dumb.” Child: “Yeah, but I’m good at it.”
- Ignore it: Bullies feed off emotional reactions, so don’t give them any.
- Make fun of the teasing: Teaser: “You’re stupid.” Child: “And your point is?”
4. Create a bully-proofing strategy and practice it together
Based on the results of your brainstorming session, you and your child should together come up with bully-proofing strategy. Figure out a series of steps your child should take the next time they’re bullied. For example, Borba recommends using the C-A-L-M sequence to handle a bully:
C – Cool down.
When you confront the bully, stay calm and always in control. Don’t let him think he’s getting to you. If you need to calm down, count to twenty slowly inside your head or say to yourself, “Chill out!” And most importantly: tell your child to always get help whenever there is a chance she might be injured.
A – Assert yourself.
Try the strategy with the bully just like you practiced.
L – Look at the teaser straight in the eye.
Appear confident, hold your head high and stand tall.
M – Mean it!
Use a firm, strong voice. Say what you feel, but don’t be insulting, threaten or tease back.
After you’ve created your strategy, it’s time to practice it! Create different scenarios for you and your child to role-play, so he can get used to learning these new methods of handling the situation.
5. Encourage your child to find allies
As we discussed in our post on why people bully others, bullies are often motivated by a desire to increase their popularity. Because of that, they will usually choose victims who are unpopular or socially isolated, so that by picking on them, the bully won’t lose any social status.
Knowing that being socially isolated increases the risk of being bullied, you can encourage your child to make more friends and find other children who will ally with him against a bully.
On a practical level, you should also encourage your child to implement a buddy system to avoid ever being alone with a bully. Wherever the bully might be, make sure your child is always in the company of at least one friend. There’s safety in numbers.
Also, encourage your child to tell an adult whenever bullying takes place. They should tell a teacher, school counselor, principal, parent, or staff member. Make sure your child understands that telling is not the same as tattling. Also, let your child know that sometimes they may need to tell more than one adult, as not every adult will be as helpful as we’d like.
6. Contact your child’s teacher or principal
It’s important to contact the school authorities as early on as possible, as the best way to stop bullying is with the help of adults.
Don’t assume that your child’s teacher already knows about the bullying and just isn’t doing anything about it out of incompetence. Bullies are smart and will wait until no adults are around before they start targeting their victims.
Make an appointment with your child’s teacher to have a meeting about the bullying, instead of just mentioning the incident in passing. This way, the teacher is much more likely to take it seriously.
During the meeting, stick to the facts about what happened and try as much as possible to keep emotions out of it. If you did a good job playing detective, you’ll have plenty of facts about who said what, who did what, and who witnessed the incident.
If the bullying persists even after you’ve met with the teacher, take it to the principal. Let the principal know that you’ve told the teacher about the situation but nothing has changed, and ask what the principal will do about it.
7. Boost your child’s self-esteem
As we discussed in our post on the effects of bullying on children, being bullied can cause a huge blow to a child’s self-esteem. That’s why it’s so important for you to focus on rebuilding your child’s self-image and self-worth.
Remind your child about all her wonderful talents and positive traits. Consider investing time and money to help your child develop her talent in music, sports, or art.
If your child’s school environment still feels hostile, help your child make new friends outside of school. Take your child to a new playground or park, join online parenting groups to find other families nearby, or get to you know your neighbors. These are all ways your child can expand her social circle.
And of course, make sure that your home is always a safe haven for your child. She should feel secure and loved, and know that she has an open line of communication with you.
Following these 7 steps will ensure that you are making every effort at preventing any future bullying behaviors targeting your child.
However, it’s important to stay vigilant. Don’t assume that just because your child has stopped talking about it, that the bullying has stopped. Keep asking questions of your child and the school authorities to keep tabs on the situation.
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“How to Prevent Bullying: A Guide for Parents and Educators”
This special report is an excellent resource, whether you’re a parent who’s concerned about your child getting bullied, or you’re a teacher looking ideas on how to prevent bullying at school.
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