Bully-Proof Your Child

By Alicia Purdy

Bullying is one of those inevitable facts of life. As much as parents try to eliminate it, schools try to govern it, and politicians try to legislate it, bullying will not ever go away. Why? Because there will always be people in the world who will use cruelty to dominate others. Kids aren't the only ones who experience bullying. Adults bully too, and often raise kids who emulate that bullying behavior - and so the cycle continues.

Are you concerned that your child will be bullied? There are things you can you do to "bully-proof" your child. Your kids don't have to be inevitable victims of bullying. Even if they are bullied, you can empower your kids to combat a bully in healthy and effective ways. Some kids who are bullied can grow up feeling victimized or their self-esteem takes a hard hit. Other kids who have encountered one or two incidents of bullying grow up with no residual effects of being teased or tormented as kids. What's the difference? Kids who are empowered are able to take control of their own lives and experiences and learn that they can do something about it.

Types of Bullying Children May Encounter

  • Verbal - Remember the old saying "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me"? In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. While it is sometimes easy to shake off verbal taunts, other times, they can cut deeply. Verbal bullying can leave lasting and deep emotional scars as with any other type.

  • Psychological - Bullying someone psychologically involves getting "into their head" and then using their trust and vulnerabilities against them. This type of bullying can be more subtle, but is very damaging to kids whose minds, emotions and self-perception are still developing.

  • Social - Social bullying happens when one kid or a group of kids deliberately reject another socially. By teasing or humiliating in public, forming cliques or groups another kid can't join, deliberately leaving one person out or peer pressuring kids to do something that violates their conscience, social bullies are typically a cunning group. You've likely observed the simplest form of social bullying if you've ever overheard a child begin a phrase with, "I won't be your friend unless..."

  • Cyber - Cyber bullying is all over the news today for a reason - it's as devastating as verbal bullying, yet more pervasive, and is driving many kids to the point of suicide. It's a form of social bullying where kids taunt and verbally bash or abuse another using social media. Negative comments posted on the Internet can reach a wider audience and, from there, the bullying spreads and more kids jump on the bandwagon of "haters."

Tips to Combat Bullying

You can help your kids deal with bullying in all its forms by teaching them, first and foremost, how to recognize, prevent and deal with it.

  • Walk away - It's not always easy to walk away when being bullied, but walking away is a life skill that your kids will need to learn for when they are adults, too. Walking away means that even when your instinct is to defend yourself or engage in a verbal exchange, you understand that staying to fight may cause things to get out of control. Teach kids the value of not rising to a fight just because someone else is picking one. This applies to cyber bulling as well--you can encourage your child to virtually "walk away" by logging off or bowing out of a chat group or chat club.

  • Diffuse the situation - There are often ways to get out of a bullying problem by being a peacemaker. If your child is being taunted about something like his appearance, teach him to deflect tormentors with a joke, rather than a jab. If kids can make bullies laugh, they'll likely move on. It'll help later in life when mean adults pull the same nonsense.

  • Report it - Don't let your kids feel like they have to deal with bullying by themselves. Kids simply don't have the skills to back down a bully and may need adult intervention. Many kids are afraid of being further teased for being a "tattle-tale" so they don't report bullying. However, make it clear to your kids that you are their strongest advocate and that if they report it to you; you will do everything in your power to make it go away.

  • Fight Back - There will inevitably be times when walking away just won't be an option. Some kids are so bullied that they are physically harmed. Despite many contrary opinions, when your kids can't walk away, it's okay for them to learn how to physically defend themselves. A martial arts program will not only teach your kids to fight, but will teach them when and how to fight - and when not to.

  • Stay in groups - If your child gets singled out, teach her to stay in a group of friends whenever a bully is around. Usually, friends will stick up for each other. If your child needs help, or even witnesses, a group of friends will provide that. Likewise, your child can learn to be a friend and advocate for others who are bullied.

  • Don't ignore it - Bullying can't be ignored. As much as kids would like to pretend it away or minimize it, they may only internalize it. Later on, bullying can manifest in problems with self-confidence and self-esteem, which can lead to self-medicating behaviors and worse. Teach your kids that it is not okay to bully others or to be bullied. They need to learn to deal with it as a serious issue, right from the start.

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