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Boy with head down

How to Help Your Kids Deal with Bullying

As the back-to-school season gets underway, all parents want their children to experience a positive, nurturing and constructive school year. But, we can’t place our children under a bubble and  there are many challenges our children may face as they go off into the world that may create the opposite experience. One of those challenges may be the classroom bully.

So, how do we best prepare our children to manage bullying?

Two things:

  1. Understand who a bully actually is and why they do what they do?
  2. Learn some “survival skills.”

PART 1 – Understand The Bully

Bullies are:
Children first. They are children who have not developed friendships and have not had the opportunity to learn how to do so. They are often lonely and are confused as to their “place” or “fit” in society. Bullies usually have low self-esteem; they don’t think much of themselves and, therefore, don’t truly fear the consequences of their actions. They often have an underdeveloped sense of social norms, including the difference between right and wrong, and may not feel any remorse for their actions.

Why do bullies target younger, smaller and meek children?
Although some children are born with higher aggressive tendencies, forceful personalities or some organic issues that may add to a lack of anger control or social skills, most bullies are “made” rather than “born” into their roles. As they were growing up, these children may have witnessed violence as one of the only ways of dealing with conflict, or to gain a sense of power and control over others, usually smaller individuals. They may have learned through experience that if you are bigger than someone, brute force can win you some of this power and control. These children may have also been a victim to verbal or physical abuse, and may have already “practiced” this pattern themselves on a pet or younger sibling. As they become school age, and without the necessary social skills to make and keep friends, they continue to fall back on the “bullying” pattern that they are familiar with. The earlier that these children are identified and receive help in the way of counselling, for themselves as well as their family, the greater the chance that this pattern can be replaced with more socially acceptable behaviours.

Part II – Develop Survival Skills

If your child is being targeted by a bully, here are some survival tips:

  • Bullies tend to focus on the “easy targets.” Encourage children to go places in groups rather than alone, making friends with children that will support them when the going gets rough, and to present themselves as confident and assertive.
  • Help your child to realize that it is the bully that has the issue, and not them. Your child must see that it is not something that they have done personally that has caused an altercation with a bully. The bully is the one with the lack of skills, not your child. Realizing this will help your child to hold on to their own sense of self-worth and not lose their self-confidence.
  • Plan for a confrontation. The longer they “dodge” facing the bully, the more the bully will pursue, and the higher the anxiety level will be for your child. Planning will tip the scales in your child’s favor. Let your child come up with the main ideas, since they know what they are personally comfortable with doing and since they also know the bully’s personality the best. Then help your child to fine-tune the plan so that some safety and support issues are built in. Help them have a back-up safety plan in place – should a physical threat exist.
  • Be part of your child’s dealings with the bully only if this is your child’s wish. Your child will need to deal with many conflictual situations over the course of their entire life. Learning how to deal with this effectively in childhood is a great life lesson.
  • Curb your urge to encourage your child to use physical force in dealing with a bully. The best and most useful life lesson is for them to learn how to verbally diffuse a tricky situation. The best police officers and security guards are the ones that have learned to manage conflict in a non-physical way.
  • Encourage your child to practice their verbal de-escalation skills by role-playing with you. You can play the bully while your child practices what they will say.
  • If you feel that a boost of self-confidence will help your child deal with this situation, consider enrolling your child in a reputable self-defense course. Judo is an excellent example. It teaches only self-defense and partners these skills with discipline as well as respect for your opponent.
  • Encourage your child to communicate with a trusted adult whenever they do not feel safe and to share their feelings and worries.