Guest Expert

Four Ways to Teach Your Kid to Stand Up to Bullying

Bullying is a familiar topic in the world of complex kids, and internationally renowned parent author and educator, Barbara Coloroso, has written a 3 part series on Bullying for us – why kids don't tell, signs that it might be happening, and what you as a parent should do about it. This is part 3 of the 3-part series.

There are four powerful ways to teach your child to stand up to bullying.

1. Strong sense of self

Three vital elements to a child's strong sense of self are a belief that no one can strip them of their own sense of dignity and worth; an understanding that they can control how they respond to a bully; and a refusal to get down in the mud and bully back.

If your kids see themselves as capable, competent, cooperative, responsible, resourceful, and resilient, they are unlikely to become bullies. They are also more likely to be able to effectively fend off an attack by one.

Your child's first response to bullying is critical. Children who use positive self-talk to develop confidence and respect for themselves are likely to see the cause of the bullying as coming from the outside. They'll understand that it's not something to beat themselves up over.

But standing strong and walking confidently, with purpose, will not always do the trick. Help your child develop appropriate responses, depending on the circumstances:

  • Comeback lines – well-rehearsed, assertive retorts that are scripted and practiced. These one-liners should be assertive, not aggressive or passive; they might be spoken under the breath, spoken out loud, or even include yelling for help.
  • Comeback actions – sometimes, your kid's best bet is to save their breath and start running. As Trevor Romain suggests in Bullies Are a Pain in the Brain, “You might look a bit foolish running down the street like a maniac, but you will look alive.” And there are times when handing over money or a jacket is the wisest thing to do. Your children need to know that nothing they own is worth more than their safety.

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2. Being a friend and having friends

Friendship skills play an important role in preventing, buffering from the harmful effects, and helping kids cope with bullying. Children need to be taught how to be friends, make friends wisely, keep friendships growing … and walk away from harmful friendships.

Kids who annoy or irritate their peers are at risk of being the bully's target and becoming increasingly isolated from otherwise caring and compassionate peers. The more isolated they become, the higher their risk of being vulnerable targets, with bullies and not-so-innocent bystanders joining forces against them. In turn, they are likely to become depressed or enraged.

Your kids may resort to inappropriate social tactics because they do not know better or because they have run out of appropriate options in a limited repertoire of friendship skills. If your child is unwittingly contributing to rejection by their peers, they will need your help to find a solution to their problem.

As much as you want to teach your child to be kind, caring, and accepting, you may also teach them to be wary and skeptical. They may need to protect themself from unscrupulous peers who “buddy” up to them with unkind intentions. Jeremy, a boy with a lisp, was asked by a group of ten-year-old boys to read aloud the poem he had written. He happily read the poem, only to have one boy repeat it – lisp and all – as the other boys laughed. Your child needs real friends who can help them see when someone is trying to “use” them, friends who can clue them in and stand by them.

3. Being able to get into a group... 

Just as being a friend and having friends are great ways to stand up to bullying, so is a child's ability to introduce themself to a group. Kids who find themselves alone on the playground because they are unwilling or unable to join in a game or other social activity are prime targets for bullies.

Teach them useful and effective ways to introduce themselves to a group and how to conduct themselves once they join. For example, teach them to observe, ask a question or say something positive about the group, ask to play or join, cooperate, play fair, share, and resolve conflicts non-violently.

Role-play various situations where your child asks to join and is welcomed, rejected, or ignored. How successfully they handle all three of these situations will increase their chances of being a part of any group in school.

4. ... And knowing when to get out of a bad group

Kids also need to be able to evaluate the various groups and recognize that some groups are better to be a part of than others. Some groups help them learn to get along with others and help them develop close friendships with people who enjoy doing the same things they like to do. Some groups help them feel good by doing good deeds in the community.

Other groups thrive on having a scapegoat and might welcome your daughter to play the part or find their pleasure by regularly excluding selected targets. Your empathetic son may struggle with the conflicted feelings of belonging to a group and hurting someone in a way he knows only too well.

If your child finds themself in a group that purposely excludes other kids, makes other kids feel unwelcome, is mean to kids in the group or to a select few outsides of the group, or requires that they conform to standards or actions that make them uncomfortable, it's time for them to find a new group of real friends who care about themselves, one another, and others outside of their group.

Ways to stand up to bullying

As a parent, you can teach your kids to stand up to bullying when you help your children feel good about themselves, develop a strong circle of friends, and practice getting into a group – and knowing when to get out. These will reduce their risk of succumbing to the tactics of a bully should one be so foolish as to target them.

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