Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about bullies in school. Most kids have to deal with being picked on at school now and again. Unfortunately, that’s how it is. That doesn’t mean it’s ok, of course, and if things get bad, I think it’s ok to intervene by talking to the child’s teacher about the situation. But what can we do to help protect against bullying? How can we help a child cope with being picked on? Here are a few of my ideas.
1. It’s ok to stand up for yourself. Teach a child from an early age, preferably starting at age 2 or 3, that it’s ok to say no to things that make you upset or uncomfortable. When another child is bothering you, you can stand up for yourself by saying (in a firm, but polite voice) things like, “No thank you!” or “Please stop!”. There’s a balance between being friendly and being a doormat, and that’s something you can start teaching pretty early on. I do a lot of roleplaying with this type of situation to help kids know the difference between when to try being nicer (if a child is asking really nicely if you’ll play, and you don’t want to, you use a nice, polite “no thanks”), and when to stand up for yourself.
2. It’s not your fault. Explain to the child that when someone picks on you, it’s not because there’s something wrong with you. There’s actually something wrong with that bully. Maybe she’s sad, or mad, or having a hard time at home. Maybe he’s lonely and wants to be your friend but doesn’t know how. Maybe she was never taught that differences are beautiful. But it’s not your child’s fault.
3. Walk away… or don’t. There are different strategies for dealing with a bully. You can always walk away, but sometimes that kid will continue to follow you. You can talk to a teacher, but that might only make teasing worse because you “tattled”. Sometimes using the “buddy system” can work because a friend can help stick up for you. Personally, if the child seems strong enough (emotionally, not physically), I think it’s better to stand up to that bully. Not by taking revenge, but by doing the opposite. You could either tell that bully, “You can say whatever you like, but it doesn’t bother me” and then just stand there and not let it bother you. The bully will move on to someone he/she can get a reaction from. Or you could play the “happy” game- every time the bully tries to make you angry or sad, try to make him/her happy. The meaner that child gets, the more you compliment and show kindness. Remember that often bullies are unhappy people, and that’s why they’re mean. If they’re happy, they won’t want to be mean. And you never know when a bully can become a friend.
I like to let children try to work things out by themselves first, but if a bullying situation is escalating, or if your child has tried all of their strategies and are still having problems, it’s time to talk to your child’s (and/or the bully’s) teacher(s).