We Can’t End Bullying, But We Can Teach Our Kids How to Handle It

Like adults, kids are people who disagree, argue, and get their feelings hurt. Instead of expecting to prevent it, we can give them tools for handling it.

Two questions running through my mind when I dropped off my daughter at kindergarten for the first time were, Will she get bullied? and How can we help her handle it?

You see, all children will be bullied at one point or another in their childhood. If they go to school they will deal with bullies and mean kids, and the bullied can even become the bully in a new situation. I’m all for the campaign on T.V. commercials, Together, We Can End Bullying. The message is a good one, even if the concept is ridiculous. That’s because we can’t “end” bullying, any more than we can end toddler tantrums, teenagism, or little girls who love Justin Bieber. It’s impossible.

Children are people, and all people have disagreements, arguments, and hurt feelings. How they learn to handle social interactions without resorting to violence or ‘meanness’ can help to reduce bullying, but it will never stop.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines a bully as: one who is habitually cruel to others who are weaker. But cruelty can be misconstrued in many situations, and fear is based on the perception of the bullied; it’s subject to their emotional response to behaviors towards them.

To illustrate this point, my daughter came home with her first ‘bully’ in second grade. Trust me, I had been counting those stars – she didn’t have any issues in Kindergarten and First Grade. She was in tears and devastated because a boy was ‘picking on her.’ She was scared to go to school, she was angry, and she ‘wanted to beat him up.’

After my husband told my daughter to be sure and ‘stand up for herself,’ I started thinking, Is that really going to help her? Or, will it make things worse? Will she be drawing that line in the sand the boy will be forced to cross. Could there be another way?

I talked to my daughter for a long time that night. I asked her, in detail, what the boy was doing and saying to her. We talked about how she felt about each incident and what her responses had been. I wanted to have all the facts so I could help her best handle the situation instead of just saying, “Stand up for yourself.”

There’s nothing wrong with standing up for yourself. The only problem is the statement is a vague one. What does it mean? Does it mean pop the bully on the nose? Does it mean throw a few ‘yo momma’ jokes to embarrass the bully? Does it mean screaming curse words at him/her in your own defense?

After the discussion with my daughter, the situation became clear to me. This boy was crushing on my seven year old, and he was exhibiting the classic ‘tease her until she loves me’ routine. I told my daughter that I thought he wanted to be her friend. I showed how his behaviors were in effort to gain her attention and, when she was snubbing him, he was trying all the harder, embarrassing her if needed, to get the desired results.

Even though she was only seven, she understood what I meant. “So what do I do, Mommy?” I thought carefully to be sure I didn’t make matters worse for her. I asked her if she had ever thought about having a talk with him, rather than a shouting match. Try pulling him to the side of the room and asking him, “Do you want to be my friend? I would be happy to be yours if you can start acting a little nicer.” I told her to explain that she doesn’t like the way he teases.

My daughter went to school and, without punching her bully in the face, she was able to diffuse a tense situation and turn it into a positive friendship. Turns out the boy just wanted to be her friend. They began talking on a regular basis and became close friends during the school year. They even went to a Halloween Dance together.

Not all situations can be handled in this manner, of course. The key is communicating with your child. Understand the situation as fully as you can. Only then can you help your child handle their particular bully.

The best response for your child might be to ignore the behavior. The best response might be to talk to the teacher or a principal. Or the best response might be to punch the bully on the nose, but it can only be determined through an understanding of what’s really going on.

Teachers cannot possibly stop every incident of bullying or mean behavior from one child towards another. Start teaching your child to problem-solve through communication and critical thinking. Role playing is also an effective tool in teaching your child to handle bullies or other relationship issues at school. If they have an idea of what to say when a situation occurs before it actually happens, they’ll feel more confident.

Don’t you practice for public speaking and job interviews? Why would any other communication be any different? Use these communication tools to help your child navigate their world, which is after all, populated by small people.