Bully Control

Bullies 315

Believe it or not, most kids never report getting bullied – not to their parents and not to their school. So what’s a parent to do? Take control of the situation before it gets to be a problem by becoming your child’s bully coach.

Step one: Kids don’t report getting bullied for lots of reasons, but the biggest reason may be the saddest: targets of bullying almost always blame themselves. Bring up the subject of bullying by making it crystal clear that no one deserves to be bullied. Not even bullies deserve to be bullied.

Bullies do what they do because it makes them feel good. Let your child know that anyone who takes pleasure out of being mean to another person deserves our pity. A person who takes joy from hurting someone else is typically hurt on the inside. Casting the bully in the light of someone people should feel sorry for lets a child begin to think of the bully as the one who has a major problem, not them. This realization does two things: first, it helps kids to stop responding in an angry or upset way – the kind of reaction bullies thrive on – and it helps a child view the bullying in a dispassionate, intellectual way. Reaching this stage of the game is literally half the battle.

Step two: Remind a child that what he says isn’t anywhere near as important as the way he says it.

Body language is the only language that’s hard-wired into our brains at birth, and without the ability to gauge another person’s words within the context of their body language, words can easily get misinterpreted.

When standing up to a bully, appearances count for everything. The statement, “You think you’re cool but you’re just a bully!” won’t deter a bully if the speaker has hunched shoulders, fails to make eye contact or is using a whiny tone of voice. On the other hand, a child who stands just a little too close to the bully, with his shoulders squared, and making strong eye contact while saying, “Watch it!” is going to make a much stronger impression on the bully, even though his actual words may not be particularly eloquent.

Step three: When kids come up with their own ideas for deflating bullies, they’re not only more likely to remember them, they’re more likely to implement them, too. Now that your child understands how important body language is, help him come up with his own snappy comeback by making a game out of it.

Brainstorm a no-holds-barred approach. Encourage him to suggest as many responses as he can before you start winnowing out the unsuitable ones. The ones that make the grade are safe to use, aren’t terribly hurtful and are easy to recall. If your child has trouble getting started, it’s OK to suggest simple responses such as, “So?” When a target just keeps repeating, “So?” while looking bored, it’s demoralizing for the bully because now they’re the one who’s starting to look not so cool.

Step four: Take the role of the target while your child takes the role of the bully. Make sure you let your child know that you’re depending on them to point out any mistakes you might make, whether it’s forgetting to make eye contact, whining or slouching. By being the kind of target who makes every mistake in the book, you’re affording your child many opportunities for learning how not to respond to a bully.

When your child has mastered what not to do and has a few comebacks of their own for responding to the bully, then you can safely switch roles. Remember: Nothing improves a child’s confidence like praise. Be generous with complimenting everything your child does right.

Step five: Sometimes a bullying situation has gone on so long that your child simply doesn’t have enough self-confidence to confront the bully without help from an adult. Teach your child the 5 W’s to report bullying: who, what, when, where and, most importantly, witnesses. When schools can corroborate a student’s claims of being bullied by independently and discreetly interviewing bystanders who saw what happened, it’s no longer a question of whether the school to take your child’s word against the bully’s.

Dr. Jackie Humans is the author of “How to ZAP a Bully!”