I have had a few Au pairs asking me about bullying. I have decided to break up this topic into four parts.
- Part One – Identifying bullying.
- Part Two – Helping children deal with being bullied.
- Part Three – How to stop a child from being a bully.
- Part Four – How to punish a child for bullying.
“Be yourself, because the people who mind don’t matter and the people that matter don’t mind.” – Dr. Seuss
Part Two – Helping Children deal with being bullied.
When a child comes to you and tells you that they are being bullied, you will probably have a hard time to wrap your head around it. It is very important to listen calmly without interrupting and to offer comfort and support. Kids are often reluctant to tell someone when they are being bullied, especially a parent or guardian because they feel embarrassed and ashamed of it. They will also feel that they are a disappointment to their families and they will think that their families will be angry or upset with them.
Children will usually feel that it is their own fault when they are being bullied. Their first reaction to it will be to either give in to the bullying or to feel as if they are not good enough, pretty enough or that they do not fit in with other children. Kids will also be scared that if they tell someone about they bullying and they tell them who the bully is, the bully will get angry and then the bullying will become even worse. Other kids might feel that if they told someone about it, they will not believe them and will not help them. They might also be afraid that they will be told to fight back and they might not feel strong or brave enough to fight back.
What to do:
It is very important to praise the child for telling you about the bullying. You have to make sure that they know and understand that they have done the right thing by telling someone about it. They also need to know that they are not alone and that a lot of people get bullied at some point in their life. Also emphasize the fact that it is not the child that is behaving badly and that it is the bully that is in the wrong. You will also need to tell the child that you will help them and that you will figure out what to do about it and hoe to stop it – together.
- Talk to the child’s teacher. If the bullying is happening at school, it would really help if you can talk to the teacher or an administrative person at the school – immediately. Most schools have a protocol against bullying. Make sure that you know exactly what happened and who was involved before you talk to them.
- Contact the bully’s parents. This is only advised when the intimidation is persistent and when you feel that the parents will be willing to work with you and help you with this. You can email or call them but it is very important to be non-confrontational when contacting them and making it clear that your goal is to resolve the matter together. You might say something like, “I’m phoning because my daughter has come home from school feeling upset every day this week. She tells me that Angie has called her names and excluded her from games at the playground. I don’t know whether Angie has mentioned any of this, but I’d like us to help them get along better. Do you have any suggestions?”
- Coach your child to get help. No matter how the child is being targeted, fighting back is never an option. It is better to teach them to walk away and seek help from an adult – teacher or supervising adult. To avoid harassment, try the buddy system as kids are less likely to pick on a kid when they are in a group of friends. But also keep in mind that you would still need to get involved. “When Karin’s daughter Grace started kindergarten, she had problems with a third-grader on her bus. “He gave Grace an ‘Indian sunburn’ and tried to make her kiss another boy,” says Karin, of Princeton, New Jersey. When she learned that the boy had also bothered other kids, she complained to the school and asked the bus driver to keep an eye on him. He stopped misbehaving within two weeks.”
Encourage positive behavior:
- Promote positive body language. By age 3, your child is ready to learn tricks that will make her a less inviting target. “Tell your child to practice looking at the color of her friends’ eyes and to do the same thing when she’s talking to a child who’s bothering her,” says Michele Borba, Ed.D., a Parents advisor and author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. This will force her to hold her head up so she’ll appear more confident. Also practice making sad, brave, and happy faces and tell her to switch to “brave” if she’s being bothered. “How you look when you encounter a bully is more important than what you say,” says Dr. Borba.
- Practice a script. Rehearse the right way to respond to a tough kid (you might even use a stuffed animal as a stand-in) so your child will feel better prepared. Teach him to speak in a strong, firm voice — whining or crying will only encourage a bully. Suggest that he say something like, “Stop bothering me!” or “I’m not going to play with you if you act mean.” He could also try, “Yeah, whatever,” and then walk away. “The key is that a comeback shouldn’t be a put-down, because that aggravates a bully,” says Dr. Borba.
- Erin Farrell Talbot, of New York City, prepped her 3-year-old son, Liam, on how to cope with two aggressive boys at day care. “We talked about how if one of them grabs his toy, he should say, ‘No, stop! I’m playing with that!’ in a loud voice,” she says. “They stopped right away. I’m proud because he learned how to stick up for himself.”
- Praise progress. When your child tells you how she defused a harasser, let her know you’re proud. If you witness another child standing up to a bully in the park, point it out to your child so she can copy that approach. Above all, emphasize the idea that your own mom may have told you when you were a kid: If your child shows that she can’t be bothered, a bully will usually move on.
Note: Most schools have bullying policies and anti-bullying programs. In addition, many states have bullying laws and policies. Find out about the laws in your community. In certain cases, if you have serious concerns about your child’s safety, you may need to contact legal authorities.
Next week will be the third part of our bully blog. Part Three – How to stop a child from being a bully. To read Part One – Identifying bullying, click here.