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The chances of your child being bullied or the bully at some point in their 13 years of formal schooling is quite high. The question for me is not necessarily how to stop them from being bullied (as much as we would all love to live in some utopian bully-free society), but how to increase their resilience so that if this does happen it isn’t detrimental to their sense of self or their enjoyment of school.
Here are a couple of quick tips that can help…
Everyone has all traits. Labelling someone as a bully or labelling yourself as a victim just exacerbates the problem. When we understand others, and can see ourselves in them, we have a much greater chance of tolerance and problem solving. While this is essential information for parents and teachers in solving the bullying in their environment, it can help the kids too to see more similarities than differences and to start to understand why someone bullies and what might be going on in their lives that has created this problem. If a child knows that the so called “bully” is being bullied themselves (perhaps by another child or a parent figure), or is having problems at home, this can help them to see it as the problem of the bully and not because there is something inherently wrong with them (and therefore labelling themselves as a victim or as flawed in some way).
We need to model for and teach our children healthy self-talk. Correct your child (and yourself) when you catch them saying negative things about themselves. A simple exercise for this is to write positive self-affirming messages on your mirrors. Most people learn early on to look at themselves in the mirror and criticise. Turning this around can go a long way towards helping kids to develop a strong sense of self-worth.
If you want children to learn to say “no” to peer pressure and in difficult situations you need to give them the opportunity to do this at home. So few parents respect the “no” of their children and then wonder why kids don’t respect their “no’s” or buckle under the pressure of their peers. So the next time your child says “no” to sharing their sweets with you, let their no mean no!
Make sure your child’s needs are being met, particularly in times of change such as starting a new school. If their needs for certainty, significance, love, growth, variety or contribution are not being fulfilled in positive ways, they may unconsciously look to fulfil these in negative ways, which can include attracting bullies into their lives. Speak to your children often about how they are feeling, what their concerns are, and please take them seriously when they are feeling unhappy in a new situation and help them to find way to alleviate this distress.
Make sure that your children are parent-oriented and not peer-oriented. One of the greatest determinants for whether a child will become a bully or become a victim of a bully is related to their level of parent vs peer-orientation. Are your children looking to you to decide what is right or wrong, where to go, what to do and how to behave or are they looking to their friends for this guidance? If a child is peer-oriented they are at a much greater risk for bullying and you are also less likely to find out about it. Peer-oriented kids try desperately to fit in and be liked and are therefore vulnerable to peer pressure. This does not only apply to teenagers, as even pre-school children can be peer-oriented. Children are more likely to be peer-oriented if they spend long hours at school and/or at play dates or extra murals where they are not properly supervised or where they do not have a good connection with the adult/s in charge. This does not mean that aftercare is out, but that you need to make a concerted effort to connect with your children deeply in the time that you do have with them – find things in common, speak to them with respect, be present for them on the weekends, etc. The more your children feel connected to you, the more resilient they are to bullying.
The world is not perfect, and our playgrounds are unfortunately rife with bullying. There is simply no way we can guarantee our children a bully-free schooling experience. But, by being involved in our children’s lives, being open to honest, non-judgemental communication and by helping them to fulfil their needs and develop a healthy sense of self we can at least give them bully-proof vests!