Unfortunately, bullying is a part of virtually all school settings in America today. Sometimes the bullying is overt, such as an older, stronger kid beating up on a younger, smaller one. Sometimes the bullying is more subtle, but no less damaging, like when a group of kids belittles a child for his name, glasses, love of books, where he lives or his religion.
Addressing and putting a stop to bullying is important. According to a recent article in the “New York Times,” the effects of bullying last well into adulthood. According to the article, adults bullied as children are more than four times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder than those who were not bullied.
How do you keep your child from being harmed by bullying? As with most things, knowledge is power. Give your child the tools he needs to stand up to bullying before the first day of school and keep the lines of communication open. Here’s how:
Give Them Tools to Help Stop Bullying
Sometimes just knowing how to deal with a bully can diffuse the situation. Although it may be tempting, telling your child to fight back and “stand up for himself” is rarely the right answer. Adding violence to violence usually just escalates and intensifies the situation.
Instead, offer your child one or more of the following ways to cope with a bully. Never stop building up your child’s confidence. Bullying thrives when your child feels less than confident and unsure of himself. Make sure to take the time to celebrate your child’s successes and unique talents, even the small ones.
Use the Buddy System
- If the bully waits for your child on the way to the bus, to the bathroom or other spot, suggest he pick a friend to accompany him. There is safety in numbers.
Emphasize Walking Away is Strong, not Weak
- To a child, walking away and ignoring a bully may seem like the weak thing to do. Let him know it takes more strength to walk away than to confront a bully and that you are proud of him when he handles a bullying situation this way.
Teach Him to Hold their Anger
- Getting angry in the face of a bully can just make the situation worse. Conversely, often smiling or laughing at the bully can also cause the situation to worsen. Tell your child the best approach is to show no reaction at all to the bully’s taunts. Help him practice his “poker face” at home so he’ll have it ready if and when he needs it.
Encourage Him to Help Others
- Even if your child is not being bullied, he can help others who are. Suggest that he might want to be the one who walks a bullied child to the bus or sits with him in the lunchroom. If everyone ignores the bully, he loses his power. Encourage him to report any bullying incident he may see to the school authorities.
- The advent of the Internet has given rise to additional, and more insidious, forms of bullying. Bullies can post things about kids online, on social media sites or school forums, and reach an audience unheard of in the pre-Internet days.
Keep Communication Open
- Bullies often prevail because their victims are afraid or ashamed to report the bully’s behavior. Make sure your child knows he can talk to you and to the teacher, counselor or minister if someone is threatening or demeaning him. Check in with your child regularly about bullying by asking open-ended questions and encouraging him to talk about what’s happening at school.
Teach them Not to BE a Bully
- Of course, for bullying to exist, some children have to BE the bullies. Make sure your child isn’t the bully by teaching him to respect other people, even those who are different from him.
Be a Good Example
- If your child sees you and your husband being aggressive or disrespectful to others, he’s likely to copy your behavior, no matter what you tell him. Equally, if you fail to stand up to a demeaning spouse or other family member, it’s all but impossible to instill confidence in your child.
Bullying has been around for generations and doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon. Make sure your child is armed with confidence and other tools to stand up for himself or to ignore the bullies before he heads back to school.
Sandy Mitchell lives in the heart of Ohio’s wine country, where she’s a homeowner, landlord, and organic gardener. She is also a regular contributor to the Ross Feller Casey, LLP blog, where shares her advice on family safety and health issues.
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