The information about what to do when our kids are bullied – or about how we can lessen their risk of getting bullied – is so conflicting that it’s not always easy to know what to do. We now know that certain approaches such as calling a bully out do not necessarily stop bullying, and can even make the behavior worse. What we do know is that much of the advice adults give bullied kids, such as “pretend you don’t care” or “ask them to stop,” is often ineffective. It has been said that those who are different from the group are the most common bullying targets. The problem is there are so many ways to define “different” that practically everyone can become a target. The bad thing about bullying is that it can’t always be prevented. The good thing is that experts have found that some approaches are helpful in bully-proofing kids.
1 | Encourage kids to ask for help
According to the bullying expert Stan Davis, asking for help is more effective than telling bullies to stop. After interviewing 13,000 kids in the “Youth Voice Project,” Stan Davis and Charisse Nixon found that the most effective actions included asking parents for help, asking other students for help, and asking adults at school for help. According to Davis, asking for help provides bullied kids with support and encouragement. Whether or not your child is a victim of bullying, it is important to talk about bullying and to let him know that he should not be embarrassed about being bullied or embarrassed about asking for help. When we improve how we communicate with our kids, they are more likely to come to us when they need our help.
2 | Promote positive body language
According to the parenting expert Michele Borba, kids perceived as confident are less likely to be bullied. In other words, how your kid looks is more important than what he or she says. Dr Borba suggests that as early as age three we can teach our kids to be confident. She proposes that kids should be taught to look into their friends’ eyes when they’re talking to them. Practicing this behavior will help them learn to display a confident disposition if they encounter a bully. Dr Borba also proposes teaching kids to practice making different faces (sad, brave, etc.) and telling them to put on their “brave” face when they encounter a bully.
3 | Foster positive child-parent relationships
In one study, several researchers sought to analyze the impact of social context on behavior. The study found that when kids were raised in positive environments they were less likely to be bullied or to become bullies themselves. Children raised in families where physical violence was common were more likely to display bullying behavior or to accept bullying. The study found that children in authoritarian environments were more likely to consider the using of force acceptable and were thus more likely to view bullying as acceptable. Positive child-parent relationships also help build resilience. Establishing family traditions is a great way to encourage family bonding and to help families weather the storms of life. Remember that although no perfect family exists, strong families have similar characteristics.
4 | Get involved
There is now clear evidence that one of the most effective ways to put a stop to bullying is to foster a positive climate in school. Reduced bullying has been reported in schools in which kids are taught about bullying and about speaking up for the bullied. Speak up if your kid is bullied. Ask the school about its bullying philosophy. Be ready to write all the letters that need to be written. It is one thing for schools to say that they “take bullying very seriously.” How they put this into practice is quite another. A positive school climate requires everyone to work together toward building a “no-bully environment.”
5 | Help kids to practice a script
Dr Borba suggests that practicing how to respond to a bully can help your child feel better prepared. Given that bullies are fueled by timid reactions such as crying, she suggests that we teach our kid to speak with a firm voice and give them a few scripted lines to practice, such as “stop bothering me!” However, according to the bullying expert Stan Davis, such an approach is not always effective in putting an end to bullying and kids should be encouraged to speak out in order to effectively address bullying.
6 | Encourage kids to take advantage of the power of distraction
Drawing on the results of the Youth Voice Project, Stan Davis has found that kids who are bullied are less bothered by bullies when they are engaged in activities they love with people they appreciate. Davis suggests that bullied kids should be encouraged to practice hobbies, music, sports, art, gardening, etc., because these activities help them develop a sense of accomplishment when they achieve their goals. He also suggests that being altruistic helps kids cope better with bullying.
7 | Help kids develop problem-solving skills
When we encourage our kids to participate in the decision-making process, we give them tools to manage many of the challenges that come their way. Davis suggests that the following three strategies can help kids cope better with bullying: