Bullying is long-standing violence, physical or psychological, conducted by an individual or a group, and directed against an individual who is not able to defend himself in the actual setting.
Too often, the result of bullying is paralysis. Fighting, tattling, paybacks, truancy, hiding, don’t allow the victim to fix the situation cleanly. Further, rarely does a school-age child have the experience to organize an effective solution. This can quickly become an agonizing situation seemingly without remedy.
If the situation is dealt with poorly, the target’s psychological framework can become damaged. But if he can fix the situation through self-direction and forethought, huge lessons in character can be gained. More, a pattern of problem-solving can be imprinted.
As in any skill teaching, the parent must be the one who guides the process.
First, the parent should be prepared ahead of the bullying event. In addition to having a sharp eye for trouble, the parent can be proactive in engaging the child in conversation about problems at school. Questions like, “Have you witnessed any bullying incidents at school?” and, “Are there students that treat other students unfairly?” can get you started. Eventually, “Has this ever happened to you?” will fit right in. This gives the child a chance to open up if something is happening. If not, it’s time for teaching a lesson in helping out others who are targets by befriending them, giving support, or even standing up for them.
If the child reveals that he is a target, your best response is to listen calmly and reply, “I know exactly what you’re going through.” Don’t get emotional or the child won’t open up again.
Here are some steps to have in place if your child has become the target of a bully or group of social intimidators:
1. Work with your child to solve it by him or herself. Don’t take school action without his/her permission. Practice role playing to approach the person about what the problem is and what started it. Sometimes a simple misunderstanding has occurred. If not, the directness of the approach implies character that isn’t easily intimidated or doesn’t fit the “target personality.”
2. Emphasize that the distress your child is feeling is exactly what someone else feels in the same situation. Ask if your child knows anyone else feeling bad because of this and encourage them to support each other and become friends.
3. Work with him to eliminate any bully “tags” such as cowering, solitude, crying, whining, etc. I once knew a boy who got picked on because he unconsciously picked his nose incessantly, and he didn’t have many defenders.
4. Begin a journal of incidents, backdated to when it began. Read the journal together to see details that might indicate susceptibility. If the situation needs to be brought to authorities, this will be strong evidence. It shows diligence and the value of supporting evidence.
5. Work with the child to enlist friends to help. The greatest salve and deterrent to bullying of any kind is friends.
6. Make your child “friend-eligible” by helping with skills that breed friendship. If these are lacking, sometimes this can be the problem itself.
7. Have your child befriend all security personnel: teachers, aides, counselors, school psychologists. Have him introduce himself and ask if he can call on them in case of trouble, which they will agree to. This helps your child realize the value of support from authorities, and the favor this brings when they’re associates instead of strangers.
8. Have your child memorize responses to threats and intimidation, delivered with eye contact, and then walking away with strong posture. Examples are,
“Leave me alone, Dan.”
“I’ve heard enough, Paul.”
“That's nice of you, Chuck.”
“This is so beneath you, Sue.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel bad?”
“Didn’t know you cared so much, Connie.”
9. Instruction in defense training can eliminate the fear of physical altercation in case the child needs to defend himself. Just being in a sparring situation can remove physical fear for having experienced it.
10. Stress that breaking in with a new set of friends and carrying one’s self proudly displays high character in any situation.
11. Stress the value in choosing friends for character rather than social rank.
12. Though bad feelings are inevitable, explain about carrying one’s self proudly through adversity. Sometimes you have to fake it till you make it, which is often a necessary approach to any new endeavor.
Rob Ellis is a counselor at Marketplace Ministry, a non-profit counseling center in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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