Bullying is an epidemic. No matter how well you raise your kids or where you live, there are cliques in every school and—depending on where they fit into the school hierarchy—your child can become the victim of bullying.
People have a natural tendency to crave power, and when grouped up they can do some very mean things. It’s not always black and white though. Whoever is bullying your child may not even realize they’re a bully; they could be playing pranks meant to be funny (and they are to them and their circle of friends) without stopping to think about the way the pranks are perceived by their victims. Our media-saturated society glorifies stunts like those pulled by the Jackass crew and a variety of web pranksters, and in the search for art kids can do some mean things to other kids.
As a parent, you’re the best guide your child has. If you don’t teach them how to deal with different people and social situations, they’ll learn on their own by either emulating what they see in the media or following the advice of those around them. Set the standard and bully proof your kids by getting involved in their lives and teaching them how to deal with complicated social situations. Here are eight simple strategies:
1. Start Early
Talk to your kids about what happened to them during the day and how those things made them feel. This simple practice helps them understand their own feelings, building empathy for themselves and others. The earlier you establish open dialog with your kids, the more willing they are to open up to you later on, even if it’s to tell you things you don’t want to hear.
2. Teach Self-Defense
Getting in fights is unfortunately a normal part of schoolyard life. While it would be great if everyone learned to talk out their differences, it’s not always possible. The reality is that life is harsh, and everyone faces violence at some time. If you want your kid to walk with confidence, teach them how to defend themselves in case bullies become physical. There are martial arts dojos everywhere, and you can also find boxing and MMA gyms that will train children.
3. Build Mutual Trust
You have to be consistent with your child; you’re setting the standard for their perception of normal. If you regularly break promises to your kid (even little ones), they lose trust in you. You have to lay down the law sometimes, but when you’re a tyrant, your kid learns not to go to you. By the same measure, if you’re not open and honest about who you are and what you’ve been through, they may think you’re too square to understand.
4. Show Compassion
You’re likely responsible for the way your child acts. Do you bully your kids, or do you involve them in family decisions and value their contributions? When someone wrongs you, how do you handle it? You set the example for your kid, so lead by example and show compassion in your own dealings. If your child sees you blow up at everyone who doesn’t do exactly what you want, they’ll see that as the way to respond. When you bully them, the bullying at school may end up feeling like it’s normal. Be the person you want your child to be; be the person they see you as.
5. Listen Carefully
Your kids may tell you that their stomach hurts, they don’t want to go to school or someone in their class is bugging them—these can all be signs of bullying. Make sure you’re truly involved in your child’s life (without violating their privacy), and listen to the verbal cues they give. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and scrutinize everything.
6. Be Their Ally
Always believe your children, but check things out for yourself. Be sure to get all the details before jumping to conclusions, but regardless of fault, always take your child’s side. There’s a good chance your child may be the bully. The difference is often difficult to tell, and you don’t want to add to the bullying on either side.
7. Think Logically
When I was in school, everyone had a reputation or ran with a clique of some type. Decide where your child fits in that picture, and figure out a way to navigate through everything. If teachers are involved in “bullying” your child, there can be a huge issue with the school, your child, or the community. If you live in Utah, for example, and your child is gay, it may be in your best interest to move somewhere else.
8. Resolve As a Team
You’re an adult, and you’re the leader in the house. Involving yourself in your child’s problems can range from a pep talk to a side-by-side tag team, depending on the situation. There may be legal issues involved, and you never know what people will put on the internet these days. However you choose to resolve the issue, make it the responsibility of the entire family so your child doesn’t feel isolated at home after a long day of being bullied.
Bullying gets complicated, and there’s no one way to deal with it. Standing up to a bully looks great on TV, but in reality it can be a one-way ticket to Knockout-land (or something much worse). The bully may be much larger, or it could be a huge group of people. You don’t want to set your child up to be ganged up on.
By acting responsibly yourself, maintaining open communication with your child, and working together, you’ll help bully proof your child, and with any luck, they’ll be strong enough to set the example for others around them.