Bullies. They are out there. Young and old. People who tear down others … maybe to feel stronger, in more control, (falsely) better. They may do it verbally … picking on someone’s faults or differences, making “jokes” or slanderous comments. They may do it physically … hitting, kicking, punching, pushing, grabbing a person, OR destroying or stealing property. They may do cyberbullying … where they attack via text, email, or the various social media sites that are out there.
So, what can we do to protect our kids against BULLIES? And also becoming one?
- Establish (& nourish) a STRONG CONNECTION AND OPEN COMMUNICATION with your child. Make sure your child knows they can talk to you about anything by listening to them. If you listen (really listen) to them about the small stuff (video games, tv, newest gadget) without judgment they will be more likely to share something that is bothering them.
- Be a ROLE MODEL. Stick up for yourself and don’t allow name calling or bullying behavior at home. If children see parents … bully, cajole, intimate others (adults and children alike), chances are they will mimic these behaviors and believe it is acceptable to do to, or take from, others.
- Teach EMPATHY and EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE. If child are taught about feelings and empathy from the moment they begin to develop their verbal skills, they will be better able to communicate their feelings appropriately and be able to begin to see from another’s perspective. Reading books about feelings and positive social skills can be helpful.
- Periodically check up on how your child is doing socially. Create a working relationship with your child’s teacher, principal, & bus driver. Also, make sure to interact with your child around their peers to get a sense of their relationships.
- Encourage participation in activities that BUILD YOUR CHILD’S SELF-ESTEEM. Children with higher self-esteem are less likely to fall victim to bullies.
- STRESS HEALTHY HABITS. Children who are obese are more likely to be bullied. Addressing weight concerns by teaching your children about appropriate portions, well-balanced meals, and by helping to make physical activity fun can have a positive impact.
But how can we help protect our kids against bullies when we’re not there? How about giving them some PROTECTIVE ARMOR for when a bully crosses their path? Here are some suggestions for Protective Armor Against Bullies, kids can:
- Tell an adult.
- Deflect verbal remarks by changing the subject or making a joke.
- Leave the situation. Simply walk or run away.
- Connect with friends. Stick together with your friends; there’s strength in numbers.
- Refuse to internalize or take in what the bully is saying. Just because they are saying it doesn’t mean it’s true.
- Truth will prevail. Be honest and true to yourself. Don’t’ become someone else or do something you don’t want to do because someone is telling you should.
- Focus on your STRENGTHS. Bullies will magnify anyone’s weaknesses, keep positive and focus on all the wonderful things about yourself.
Have them think of each one as a different piece of armor that will protect them. Like the helmet represents notifying an adult, the shield represents not internalizing the comments, and so on. Here’s an example of how I implemented this strategy in a play therapy session for a child who was worried about returning to school this year because of the bully he encountered last year.
For more information:
Book list of my Favorite Books on Social Skills, including ones on Bullying.
Hear my radio interview on Kids’ Health: Bullying on WGVU
Seven Signs Your Child Might Be a Victim of Bullying (an article I wrote for A Healthier Michigan)
Follow Laura Hutchison’s board Preventing Bullying on Pinterest.
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Laura Hutchison (aka PlayDrMom) is a chubby kid turned competitive figure skater tween turned high school pom pon girl turned MSU Spartan turned grad student turned Mrs. HutcH turned Dr. turned Mom. She adores living in the Mitten, is addicted to Diet Coke, and firmly believes that ice cream is a main food group.