Advice for Helping Your Child Deal with Bullies

I was bullied often as a child. One time, I remember one of the girls who bullied me commenting that she liked my sweater. If I said thank you, she and her friends would snicker about how stupid I was and say “where’d you get it, the dump?” If I told her to knock it off, she’d start screaming I was paranoid.

Bullies are going to do what they are going to do, unfortunately. And as much as parents may say “ignore it” or “just be friendly anyway” or “they only want a reaction” – none of these strategies and theories to deal with bullies work 100 per cent of the time.

So what should you do if your child is being bullied?

  1. Don’t blame your child! My parents often asked me what I had done to cause bullies to prank phone call our house. Unfortunately social hierarchy in school is often determined and enforced by bullying behavior. Targets of bullying behavior are chosen for all sorts of stupid reasons (the wrong clothes, bad at sports, good grades, boredom, weight, looks) that the child cannot control and should not have to control to be treated with respect.
  2. Don’t say “they only want a reaction, if you stop reacting they will leave you alone.” While this is sometimes true of bullies, it also gives the message the emotions are dangerous and wrong. Find a better way to introduce your child to this theory and make it clear that it may or may not work when it comes to their particular bully.
  3. Don’t try to fix the superficial reasons for why the child is bullied. Once a child is targeted for bullying new clothes or the right hairstyle will not make a difference. Plus do you really want your child to think that these are the things that make them a worthy human being? If working on these issues help to boost your child’s self esteem, that’s great – but don’t tie it to stopping the bullying.
  4. Don’t necessarily go to the school authorities. If you go to the school this will make you child feel even more powerless, and unless you know how the school handles bullying complaints, it might not be effective, or worse create a situation where you child is the target of more bullying. Use this as a last resort or if there is physical violence or intimidation involved in the bullying. Remember that many schools tolerate bullying (“kids will be kids”) for a variety of reasons.
  5. Be careful about talking to the bully’s parents. Only do this if you are very close to them and are sure they will not reveal specific information to their child. If the parents then tried to discipline their child specific to your complaint, the bully would then take it out on your child.
  6. Don’t tolerate bullying from your own child. Often kids who are targeted by bullies realize that if they find someone to bully they will move up in the school hierarchy. Do not let them engage in this behavior just to protect themselves.
  7. Do encourage your child to participate in activities outside of school at which they excel to give them a chance to socialize with different kids. Dance lessons? Little League? Scouting? Pageants? Whatever it is be sure it’s something your child is interested in and not something you’ve chosen for them. They need positive social interaction to counteract the emotional effects of being bullied.
  8. Don’t encourage your child to conform in order to stop bullies. One shouldn’t have to be like everyone else to live with respect. Instead, encourage your child to be proud of who they are regardless of other people’s opinions.
  9. Remind them that bullies do what they do because they are insecure.
  10. Remind them that while they might not believe this now, things will get better.
  11. If you had experiences with bullies as a kid, relate them so your child doesn’t feel so alone. Similarly if you were a bully, explain why you did it.
  12. Remind your kids that a bully’s actions are based merely on their opinions, and that these opinions have nothing to do with reality or the truth. It’s very easy for kids who are teased to think that other’s opinions of them are always true.
  13. While it is important your kids not resort to violence when dealing with bullies, you may want to consider having them learn to physically defend themselves if they deal with violent bullies. While both kids in a fight at school are often punished, I think there are occassions where a kid should defend themselves anyway. Self-defense classes or martial arts both convey valuable information and may help empower your child outside of this situation. This is an issue you should discuss with your child at length. See what they think about these issues.

Issues like bullying are an opportunity to show your child you are on their side and also respect their ability to solve their own problems. If you handle it carefully, with lots of conversation and don’t think any one strategy is the answer you and your child may not be able to stop the bullying, but you will be able to get through it with your dignity and sanity in tact.

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