Kids who are bullied 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.
If your child is being bullied, the treatment he receives may hurt you almost as much as it does your bullied child. You may feel powerless to stop it, but this is not the case. In fact, adults can send the message that bullying is not acceptable by responding quickly and consistently to any witnessed incidents or reports of bullying.
Adults and children each have a role to play in stopping bullying. The following steps will help both you and your child face the situation at hand:
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. Once your child has learned the correct way to respond to a bully, encourage them to act without hesitation.
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. Learn the Difference Between Tattling and Reporting
There is a difference between tattling on a schoolmate and reporting behavior that has the potential to cause harm. While the two behaviors are distinct, you cannot rely on your child to be able to instinctively tell the difference, especially if you do not know the difference yourself.
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
Learn the differences between tattling and reporting, and teach your child how to recognize them and react appropriately in the given situation.
3. Communicate With Words and Actions
While the often-cited 93 percent figure is probably incorrect, as much as 60 to 90 percent of a message is communicated nonverbally in face-to-face interaction. Teach your child to back up his 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 he 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. Occupy the Middle Ground
Assertiveness is the middle ground between passivity and aggression. Teach your child to stand up for her rights without stooping to the bully’s level.
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, etc. Be sure you play an active role in your child’s support network.
7. Create Awareness
Remind your child that he has a role to play in stopping bullying; it will be harder for your or other adults to intervene if he does not alert you to the problem. Make a pact with your child that if he reports the problem to you, you will take him seriously and act quickly.
Stopping bullying isn’t easy, but you and your child can accomplish a lot through your combined efforts using these techniques.