School is back in session and starting to get into full swing. As we head into October, kids are starting to become comfortable with each other while the uncertainty of starting a new school year is fading. With that, more bold personalities come out and an increase in risk-taking occurs. Unfortunately, some of that risk-taking involves testing out what it feels like to bully other kids. When your child is the target of that risk-taking, you might feel frustrated and uncertain about how to help.
First, let’s define bullying. Over the years, it seems this term gets thrown around haphazardly. It’s important to define it, so we can recognize it. Bullying is defined as a person being hurt emotionally or physically, on purpose, usually more than once, and has a hard time making it stop. Emotional bullying can include name-calling, laughing at someone, making fun of someone, sending mean messages on the computer or cell phone, or intentionally trying to make someone feel bad about themselves. Physical bullying includes fighting, hitting, pushing, yelling, or making rude gestures. Bullying can happen to anyone anywhere, including the internet. If you’re wondering if your child is a target of bullying, you can use this checklist here to help you decide.
Now that we know what bullying is, let’s talk about how to help your child stop the bullying. Adult intervention is often necessary to stop bullying, so here are a few things to do if you find your family in this situation:
The first step to helping your child is to be empathetic. This means listening quietly and calmly, so your child feels support and comfort. Your child is taking a brave step in telling you what’s going on and it’s not easy for him or her. Kids often feel ashamed or that the bullying is their fault. Listening to their story without becoming emotionally dysregulated yourself is important.
Bullying often happens at school so telling a safe person at school is a good step to take. This way your child has an advocate while you are not there. Often, teachers and staff can intervene quickly if they know there is a problem. Keep in mind that dealing with bullying can be complicated. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this. Bullying should never happen, no matter what; however, how bully situations are handled can be different based on age, location, frequency, and intensity.
Build a tool kit for your child
A good way to avoid bullying all together is to teach your child skills to set healthy boundaries at school. Body language can play a big role in whether your child continues to be bullied or not. The more confident, calm, and firm your child is, the less likely a bully will want to continue targeting your child. Teach your child to say quick firm phrases like, “Stop! Leave me alone!” or “Stop, I just want to go!” You can even role-play situations to help your kiddo gain more confidence in a variety of scenarios. For example, pretend you are the bully and block your child’s path. Tell your child to say, “Stop! Leave me alone! I just want to pass!” After he or she has said that loudly and firmly, teach your child to walk away and let them pass.
Another good trick is to teach your child to look at the color of another person’s eyes. This helps build good social skills. We can take it a step farther by telling them to look at the bully’s color of eyes as well. This will help your kiddo keep their head up and appear confident and calm. Often, body language is more important than what your child says.
You can also teach your child a variety of affirmations. When someone says something negative, tell yourself something positive (this works great for adults too!) Thoughts are a powerful tool. If you tell yourself or someone tells you that you are dumb or ugly enough times, you start to believe it. You can counteract this by telling yourself positive statements as well. If your child is of the age of reading, you can write positive affirmations on their mirror so they can read them every day.
I-Statements are a powerful tool in communication. They allow for a person to say what they are feeling in a non-threatening way. It sounds like this, “I feel ________ when you _______ because ________.” For example, “I feel angry when you call me names because they aren’t true!” Teach your kiddo to say this in a calm yet firm voice. Then walk away with confidence. (Another good role-playing idea).
Teach using humor
Similar to disarming a temper tantrum with humor, kids can disarm bullies with humor. It’s not an expected response so it leaves the other person feeling confused and uncertain of how to respond. It could be something as simple as laughing at the bully’s threat, then walking away. Maybe you have a quick-witted kid, and they can come up with something funny. Just make sure your kiddo isn’t fighting fire with fire. Whatever they say should not be at the expense of the bully.
Build a Positive Self-Concept for your child
It’s a lot harder for bullies to target a confident child in the first place. Even better, if your child feels confident, bullying won't affect his or her self-esteem as greatly. So help build up positive self-esteem and self-concept by using lots of encouragement and putting them in activities that bring out the best in them. Kids thrive when we focus on their positive qualities, leading to long-term positive self-esteem and confidence.
If you’re struggling with bullying and your kiddo is starting to show signs of anxiety or depression, don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance. WellNest Counseling would love to help you and your family! Give us a call so we can talk about the next steps or help build your kiddo’s confidence back up!