When I'm talk about bullying I'm not talking about the one off comments or that fact that a child won't play with another child one day. Bullying is repeated, ongoing and deliberate actions to hurt someone. The bullying may be physically hurting someone, verbal such as name calling or threatening someone. It could be psychological and emotional bullying such as spreading rumors or excluding someone deliberately. Then as if that wasn't enough we now have cyperbullying, where children are taunted on social media, text etc. This type of bullying is so invasive as there seems to be no physical break from the bully, they are there even in your home where you are supposed to be safe.
When parents find out that their child is being bullied they are likely to go through waves of emotions. They may want to confront the bully or their parent. They may want to tell their child to punch the kids doing it. Or they could just be completely overwhelmed and not know what to do at all. Meeting aggression with aggression it not going to help. But we can't just sit by and do nothing. Our kids need us to help keep them safe. They need us to be their advocate, their support, their coach and their cheer quad. Some parents take the "tough love" approach where they think that kids have to just learn to deal with bullying because it is everywhere. But as an adult, if you were being bullied at your workplace, what would you do? Most people would look for another job and leave. A child doesn't have that sort of power, they are forced to face continued bullying at school which is supposed to be a safe place to be.
So what can we do when our child is being bullied
There is a line: First of all there is never a time when physical violence is okay. A child being hit is assault and should always dealt with. If your child has been hit or physically hurt then you need to make sure that the school is taking action. You don't need to be aggressive, but you do need to be assertive. Schools have regulations for physical violence and this needs to be followed through. While you can teach your child how to handle verbal and emotional bullying (although it still should be reported and dealt with), there should be no tolerance for violence and if the school isn't taking any action then you can make reports to the education department.
Bullying of any kind needs to be reported to your school. If it is an ongoing problem then it is bullying and something needs to be done. There are strategies that you can use to build your child's resilience and assertiveness, but if there are continued and deliberate acts to harm your child then you need to make sure action is taken. Keep a record of the incidents and what actions have taken place. Stay in regular contact with the school principal and their teacher. Discuss with the school what plans they have in place, how are they keeping your child safe? What can your child do if something happens? Who should they report to? Are other teachers in the playground and casual staff aware of the bullying? These are important questions to ask. You need to know that you and the school are working together to help your child.
If there has only been a couple of incidents (not physical, that is never okay) there are skills we can teach our kids to help deflect bullying. Bullying is almost always someone trying to assert power over another. We can teach our kids to develop skills to stop the bully from feeling as though they have the power in the relationship and hopefully make bullying pointless.
Have planned come backs
Meeting name calling with name calling rarely gets a good outcome. It becomes a war of who can say the nastiest thing and usually only aggravates the bully causing them to continue. As crazy as this may seem, agreeing with the bully can be really effective. Now, when I say agree I don't mean that you believe horrible things about yourself or put yourself down. However, if we agree on some level, we take the power out of what they bully is trying to do. So for example if a bully says "you're so dumb" you could say "yeah I do make mistakes sometimes". Or if they say "you're ugly" you could say "yeah, I'm having a bad hair day". Adding a compliment to the bully can really throw them. If you added "you look great though", they really don't have any where else to go, you effectively disarm them. But again, when you tell your kids about this technique, make sure that they understand that it doesn't mean that they believe what the bully is saying is true, you are just finding some way to agree with the comment to take away the power.
Humor is a great way to respond to teasing. The problem is that it is hard to to be funny in the moment especially if you are stressed. It can be helpful to have some come backs ready to go. If a bully makes fun of your child missing the ball in a game they could say "that's very observant of you" or "nice of you to notice". If the bully keeps making comments, they could say "I wish you wouldn't worry about me so much". Talk to your child about situations that have happened and try and come up with funny come backs. Come up with as many as you can so that your child has lots of "go to' things to say.
So many parents cringe when I say role play, but it is such a great way to practice and build confidence in your child to manage challenges. If you role play you may see that your child's body language could be causing them to be a target. A bully will always target someone that they think they can have power over. Have your child practice their come backs with a strong posture, eye contact (if they are able) and with a firm and confident voice. These non-verbal actions are really important when confronting a bully.
Make a plan
Talk with your child about what they can do if they need help. Who are the people they are confident will help them. Are there friends that they can have around them? Who are the teachers that they feel comfortable talking to? What is plan A and what is plan B. Involve your child in this process. Have them problem-solve what they can do. But you also need to explain that your job is to keep them safe and if you feel that it has gone too far, you will make sure that the school is dealing with it properly.
One of the most powerful ways that a child will be resilience is that they know without a shadow of a doubt that they are loved and accepted for who they are by their parents/carers. They need to know that no matter what, your love for them will never change. In knowing this, they have an assurance that they are worthwhile and valued. But if a child is being bullied for an extended period, even this will start to be chipped away. As kids get older they need more than just their parents to accept them, they need people around them that "get" them, they need friends. Having friends that have similar interests, ideals etc is so important when it come to resilience. The reason being, if someone doesn't like you i.e. the bully, at least you have other people who do like you. The bully's opinion simply doesn't matter as much when you have your group who support you.
Finding friends is not always easy. Kids are expected to get along just because they go to the same school and that simply isn't enough of a reason to be friends. The start of making friends is knowing yourself first. This is hard for kids, they are just learning what they like and what they are good at. Try and find your kid's strengths and go from there. Friends don't have to be at school, they could be at scouts, art classes, sports teams. As parents we do need to try and support these friendships and organise play dates, phone calls and accessibility.
Coping with bullying is hard for everyone. No parents wants to see their child go through being bullied, but it can be hard to know what to do. It is our job to keep our kids safe. We need to work with the school to help support our kid while they are in their care. But we also need to coach, support and encourage our kids to help them become assertive and resilient.