Bully-Proof Your Child

Words: Elaine Halligan

Recently at The Parent Practice, we have seen a growing rise in the number of clients seeking help and support for both boys and girls experiencing friendship difficulties. Our Girls and Friendships workshop continues to be a sell-out every term. The impact of bullying on families can be enormous, with some parents reporting that they resorted to moving schools to ensure their children’s happiness. Friendship difficulties are not a sign of social failure, but a glimpse of social development in progress. Your child is not a ‘monster’ if she is being mean to others and doesn’t necessarily have a helpless victim mentality if she is being bullied.

Bullying involves an abuse of power; the intention of the bully is to put the victim in distress in some way. Bullies seek social power through relentless teasing. This can be harmful physically and psychologically, and is quite distinct from the usual disagreement, mild name-calling and conflict, which are part of growing up. It is vital parents don’t inadvertently stamp a victim identity on their child by catastrophising and racing in too quickly to intervene.

We live in a self-obsessed society. The focus in education on grades, tests and results contributes to the empathy vacuum. If parents are so focused on achievement, they may not emphasise the need for kindness – the antidote to peer cruelty. One client reported that her nine-year-old girl, an able swimmer in the swim squad, was subjected to a tirade of abuse with the bully declaring: “You’ll be humiliated in front of the whole school.” She had been programmed to believe that she needed to win at any cost. Your role is to help your child to stand up to bullying behaviour and prevent them from becoming a bully. Here are some ideas.

Parent With Respect
Try to use positive discipline; set clear boundaries, listen with understanding, and problem-solve when they get things wrong. Model using influence not coercion.

Model Confident Behaviour
Demonstrate being assertive, not threatening with people if you feel you have been treated poorly – for example, return a cold coffee politely without personalising.

Model Kindness
How you communicate with others is vital, and acts of kindness, such as giving up your seat on the bus for an elderly person, will help your child learn the value of kindness and thinking of others.

Teach Your Child To Be A Powerful Bystander
The bystander plays an important role as his presence can be reinforcing for the bully or supportive of the victim. Coach children to try to stop it happening where it feels safe to do so. Even if your child can’t prevent the bullying, they can offer support by saying: “Don’t listen to him, play with us,” or by reassuring the child who is being bullied afterwards.

Practise Responding To Bullying In Role
Help your child use his actions, body language and words to show the bully he has no power. He can’t control the bully but he is in control of his own responses. He could say: “I’m just going to ignore that comment,” or “That’s your opinion.”

Involve Other Adults If Necessary
There may be times, such as when there’s repeated taunting, when you should seek the help of school staff. Tell your child they are not alone, they have support and they are not responsible for the other child’s behaviour.

Teach Your Child Basic Social Skills
Bullies pick on children they believe to be vulnerable, so build confidence and ensure your child knows many social skills – how to start conversations, how to join in a game, how to read social cues, and how to negotiate and make up after disagreements. Role-play with toys.

If Your Child Is Being A Bully
Take an honest look at why this might be happening. Has your child been bullied? Do you need to adjust your discipline style? Reassure him he’s loved although the behaviour is unacceptable. Explain what bullying is and why it is wrong.

Elaine Halligan is London Director of The Parent Practice, an organisation that enables parents to get the best out of their children. theparentpractice.com