It’s no surprise that bullied kids may experience negative effects on their school performance, mental state, and even physical health. Bullying isn’t good for the kids who engage in it, either. They are more likely to behave abusively towards family members or romantic partners, get in trouble with the law, or engage in drug abuse and other risky behaviors.
While we know some of the reasons why a child becomes a bully, if your child is on the receiving end of abuse, your main focus is giving them the tools to handle it. Here are 7 anti-bullying techniques, tips, and pieces of advice to help your child manage the situation.
1. Take Quick Action
Many of us were taught that if we ignore bullies, eventually they’ll get bored and stop. In fact, the opposite is more often true: Refusing to stand up to a bully or report the behavior to an adult actually increases the bully’s power over your child. This is because the bully learns he can act with impunity, and his hold over your child often becomes stronger the longer the behavior goes unchallenged.
“As human beings, when we’re cornered we usually get stuck in fight, flight or freeze mode,” explains Michael Anthony-Nalepa, licensed psychotherapist and creator of The Psychology of Bullying course at Antioch University, the first such program in the country. “Of the three modes, freeze can be the one that traumatizes the child most in a bullying situation. For fight mode, we want to teach them not to start a fight but to stand up for themselves. In terms of flight mode, we want to teach them how to get out of a situation that might be scary or harmful.”
Research shows that staying silent and just taking abuse is the most damaging. Again, standing up does not mean being aggressive or fighting back, it means saying “no” to the situation and reaching out for help when the bully doesn’t listen.
2. See Something, Say Something
“Teach your child that if something doesn’t [feel] right to them, they have a right to speak up about it,” Nalepa advises Parentology readers. What if your child is afraid of being branded a tattletale? “This narrative of being labeled a narc or a tattletale is problematic because it keeps the shyest kids quiet. In my practice, I try to reframe it and encourage kids to adopt a policy of, ‘If I see something, I say something — and I do it honestly.’”
For kids worried about being labeled a tattletale, explain the differences.
Tattling involves the following characteristics:
- No one in the situation is hurt or in danger
- Adult involvement is not required to solve the problem
- The child has something to gain by tattling
- The child’s intention is to get someone else in trouble
However, the following circumstances warrant reporting the situation to an adult:
- Someone may be in danger or hurt
- The problem cannot be solved without adult involvement
- The problem is urgent
- The child has safety concerns
- The child is acting in defense of himself or others
3. Communicate with Words and Actions
As much as 60 to 90 percent of a message is communicated nonverbally in face-to-face interaction. (Higher statistics are widely used, but likely inaccurate.) Teach your child to back up words with assertive body language.
- Stand an appropriate distance away from the bully, without either cowering or getting into her face
- Speak to the bully in a calm, even voice, addressing her by name
- Keep looking the bully in the eye
These behaviors will show the bully that your child means what she says.
4. Remain Calm and Confident
Reacting to a bully with emotion shows him that his words and actions are having the desired effect and he is “getting to” your child. An emotional response is also more likely to escalate the situation. By responding calmly and with confidence, your child takes away the bully’s primary weapon of intimidation.
5. Don’t Be a Silent Bystander
Sometimes it’s easier to speak up for other people than it is for ourselves.
“When your child sees something in the world that’s unjust or unfair or unkind, teach them to say something,” says Nalepa. “Say one kid is picking on another kid on the playground, or as a teenager, you see a boy at a party trying to coax a girl to do something she doesn’t want to do, encourage your kid to say something.”
The more young people are able to stand up for others, the more likely they’re going to be able to stand up for themselves.
6. Build a Support System
Bullies make their victims feel powerless by isolating them from others. Help your child maintain connections with supportive adults and trustworthy friends at school, in church, in sports teams, and so on. Be sure you play an active role in your child’s support network.
“You want to make sure that your kids have people in their lives [who are] their own age, that are going through what they’re going through,” counsels Nalepa, “and also adult mentors that have been through what they’re going through. Studies have shown that children thrive when they have at least five kids in the same situation as them, and at least one adult mentor. It might be a teacher or coach or therapist.”
7. Create a Safe Space for Your Child to Be Honest with You
These tips might be too hard for your child to act on in the moment, so it’s important to have a place they can check in with you about what they’re experiencing — even it’s after the fact. Make a pact with your child that if he reports the problem to you, you will take him seriously and act quickly.
“It’s important to have that touchstone of communication,” says Nalepa, who is also the Executive Director of the Anonymous Initiative, an organization dedicated to helping people overcome their inner bully. “We don’t want kids to push things down for the sake of sounding good or to make other people comfortable. We want them to feel free to share with us and initiate those conversations.”
“One final tip for parents,” adds Nalepa. “Don’t be afraid to ask your child if they’re being bullied. While some kids will roll their eyes and say, ‘Oh mom, I’m fine,’ there are other kids who are just waiting for an opportunity to open up about it. Better to risk eye-rolling and ask.”