According to the BullyingUK website, more than half of all children are involved in bullying – as targets, perpetrators, or witnesses. Still, the fact remains that no parent likes to think of his or her child being bullied, or worse, being a bully. With these statistics, though, there is a good chance you will have to deal with bullying at some point.
You do not have to be a child psychology expert to deal with bullying. Nor do you have to a martial arts practitioner. You just need to improve your negotiating skills in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of your child. You can defuse the bully and watch your child enjoy school and everyday activities without fear if you follow the strategies below.
4 Steps for Dealing With Your Child’s Bully
Step 1: Understand the Situation
In order to avoid tagging all adverse social exchanges as bullying, it is important to define the term properly. Some disagreements have nothing to do with bullying and may be a sign of normal, healthy relating. Any antagonistic, unwanted behavior that involves a real or apparent power imbalance can be termed bullying.
As humans we all crave safety, belonging, and mattering. The bully may have unmet needs in one or more of these areas, but he or she is going about getting it in an inappropriate manner.
Bullying can also be a coping method for children going through a traumatic situation or it may be learned from prejudice-based attitudes or abuse at home. Often children who terrorize others are currently or at some point have also been bullied. Other reasons for bullying include insecurity and jealousy. Do not allow your child to be the victim.
Step 2: Get the Facts
Listen calmly if your child tells you that he or she is being bullied, and offer support and comfort. Praise your child for doing the right thing by telling you about it. Emphasize that he or she is not alone: bullies target lots of people every day. Make sure he or she understands that it is not his or her fault, but that it is the bully that is behaving badly.
Remember that not all children will open up about bullying. Be on the lookout for any sign that something is bothering your child, and gently encourage him or her to tell you about any problems with other children or with anyone else for that matter. Be alert for signs such as anxiety, insomnia, lack of appetite, or loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed. Other warning signs are unexplained injuries and lost or destroyed personal items.
Check-in with your child every day on how things are going at school. Create a nurturing climate by using a calm, friendly tone, so your child will not be afraid to tell you if anything is wrong.
Step 3: Make Sure Your Child’s School is Aware and Involved
Your child’s school is your most powerful ally in dealing with bullying. You should, therefore, speak to the school, whether or not your child wants you to do so. Children who are being bullied are justifiably fearful and often worry that any action will aggravate the problem. Your child may attempt to talk you out of speaking with the school.
Most schools, however, have staff members trained to deal with bullying, since it is such a serious and widespread problem. Enlist the help of administrators, teachers, and support staff members at school. Give them the particulars about exactly what type of bullying is taking place. Ask for information on what kind of anti-bullying efforts are currently being made.
When you approach the school, treat the teachers and administrators as allies. Ask for their views, and be assertive, but not accusatory or irate. End the meeting with a plan for how the situation will be handled, and keep in touch with the school.
If the bully persists, document the behavior and file a Notice of Harassment. You may need to contact the Superintendent of Schools, or move further up the chain of command and speak to the Board of Education or even state or federal authorities. Contact law enforcement immediately if your child is threatened. These recommendations are valid for any type of bullying, including cyber-bullying.
Step 4: Teach Your Child Coping Strategies
Even if you follow all of the strategies above, your child can still end up in a situation where bullies corner him or her. Teach your child to ignore the bully and walk away: bullies are looking for a reaction. Do not give them that satisfaction. If the bully gets violent, teach children to run for help: fighting back may not work if your child is smaller than the bully.
If your child and the bully are more or less evenly matched, then you can teach your child to stand his or her ground. Bullies are generally cowards and have been known to back down when targets respond to them firmly.
Older children can learn the technique of laughing at themselves. For example, if the bully says, what’s up with your hair, your child can say something like, I used the vacuum cleaner to dry it this morning. Another way to deflate a bully is to keep repeating the word “so?” after each taunt. This is crushing for the bully because he or she starts to look uncool.
Reinforce these strategies with role-playing. Make sure your child’s body language will show the bully that he or she means business: have him or her practice standing with shoulders squared and making strong eye contact. Run through phrases your child can use to tell someone to stop bullying behavior, for example, “Back off,” “That wasn’t nice,” or the previously discussed “So?”
Psychological, physical or cyber: the type of bullying does not matter. Bullying is a concern that parents and teachers must take very seriously. It is important to encourage children to open up about bullying, and for you to take steps to protect and empower your child if he or she becomes a target. It is also important that you remain calm and manage your emotions during this trying time so that your children can model the correct behavior when they are faced with conflict.