With Fall upon us parents are busy preparing their children for school. We are making the last minute dash to get school supplies, trying to figure out all of the fall sports and activities, and hoping we can somehow balance everything. For children the return to school is the beginning of a new year and is filled with mixed feelings. There is the excitement of seeing friends again and sharing summer stories, but the social world of children also has its perils. For many children the return to school means the return to bullying. For others there is the fear that they may become the target of a bully this school year. There are many children who are afraid of having to deal with bullies, and feel unsafe at their schools.
There has been a lot of attention on bullying over the last few years, and we have become familiar with how tragic the results of bullying can be for some children and their families. Fortunately there has been a shift in how schools are treating bullying; rather than just discounting it as childish behaviour most schools have developed progressive anti-bullying polices and implemented proactive protocols. This is progress, and it is important that educators and parents continue this conversation. But we also need to talk with our children about bullying and provide them with tools on how to deal with it.
Although we have made considerable progress in many regards, we need to be honest that bullying is not something that is going to disappear. Bullying has been around as long as people have been around. Humans are social creatures and power is a played out in our social relationships. Bullying is really about the misuse of power, and the use of intimidation. Bullying continues to exist in the adult world, but if we assist our children in responding to it and understanding how to use power in a positive manner we can nurture good citizens of the world who will not need to bully in order to feel powerful.
Most children indicate that bullying does happen at their school, and most say that at some point they have experienced being bullied. It is important to discuss with your children how to respond to it because it is likely that they could end up on the other side of a bully at some point. Here are some tips that might be helpful for your children.
1. Look to the adults for anchors. Get to know the teachers and administrators at the school and become a matchmaker between the school personnel and your child. If your child feels safe and secure in the relationship with a trusted adult at the school they are much more likely to ask for assistance if they need it, and will be able to spend time with a safe adult if their peer relationships are becoming difficult.
2. There is safety in numbers. Encourage your child to use the buddy system whenever possible. They can offer to assist their friends in this manner as well. It is the lone child that becomes the favourite target for a bully. Even if you child is not being bullied encourage them to look out for others by including children that are on the fringes. This is also an effective way to grow compassion and caring in our children.
3. Don’t accept the role of a victim. Bullies need victims and they are looking for the child they can successfully intimidate. It is natural to be upset by a bully. We are human and our feelings will be hurt by a bully, but encourage your child to not show the bully that they have hurt their feelings. It is very hard to tuck in your feelings and not react, but to openly react to the bully feeds the fire. This will require your child to learn to manage their own reactions. If the bully gets a reaction it will reinforce the behaviour and they will continue the bullying. Assist your child in developing some tools to cool down and manage their own feelings. Some suggestions are to count to 10, do deep breathing, using their imagination to imagine the bully shrinking, and to use self-talk to remind themselves that they are strong and they can handle this -anything to keep them calm and cool in the moment. If the bully does not get a reaction they will soon lose interest in your child.
4. Act confident and be assertive. Walk away and act uninterested. The child can firmly tell the bully to stop, but this needs to be done with confidence and calmness. Practice with you child how they can act like they do not care, and help them understand that confidence is built through handing difficult situations.
5. Talk about it once away from the bully. We do not want children bottling up feelings and internalizing the bullying. It is important that they talk to you, or another trusted adult in order to move the feelings that are inside. If they keep the feelings inside it could lead to significant issues like anxiety, self-esteem issues and depression.
6. Connect with family. Let your child know that they can talk with you any time. Tell your child that they have the most important things in the world which is a home that is safe and parents that care about them. When the world gets overwhelming to our children we need to remind them that we are the ultimate safe harbours in their lives. We need to remind that the issues with their peers will pass, and family support and love is permanent. The thing that will protect your child better than anything is a solid, well attached and secure relationship with you.
7. The bully is the real loser in all of this. Point out to your children that it is the bully who is the most insecure person of all. If someone feels good about themselves then there is no need to bully. Point out that the child who bullies is actually very insecure and unhappy, and encourage your child towards compassion for the bully if possible. A bully is trying to make themselves look taller by cutting off the heads of others.