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How to empower children against bullying.


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What is Bullying?

According to the dictionary, bullying is defined as repeated unwanted and aggressive behavior in which the child and teen uses a perceived power imbalance such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information or popularity, to control and harm other kids. It can include anything from spreading rumors to name calling to physical aggression, but this is not being rude or unkind once. It is basically the repeated, purposeful abuse of power, meant to cause harm to another person.

Why would a young child do this? Have you ever thought about it? Because it gives them power. We all need to feel powerful in our lives. If we do not have access to power in the healthy way, it becomes hard to resist using it in unhealthy way. And for a child or teen who often feels powerless in his life, abusing power by bullying can feel as potent as a drug. If the child is hurting inside, it can help him feel a little better for a short time. Unfortunately, the kids who are hurting, often hurt other kids.

Can you bully-proof your child?

Unfortunately, no. There have always been hurting people who act out by hurting others, and your child's path will sometimes cross with theirs. And all children want to get their way, which means they will sometimes abuse power; that is developmentally normal and short-lived in a context where they are also developing empathy. Your goal should not be to insulate your child, but to support him to develop the awareness and skills to protect himself when necessary, and to seek help when he is in over his head.

Bullying behavior begins in preschool and gain momentum as kids grow. Many kids describe themselves as having been subjected to bullying but also as having bullied others. Unless your child tells you about bullying or has visible bruises or injuries, it can be hard to know if it is happening.

But there are some warning signs. Parents might notice kids:


  1. Acting differently or seeming anxious
  2. Not eating, not sleeping well, or not doing the things they usually enjoy
  3. They seem moodier or more easily upset than usual.
  4. They try avoiding certain situations (like taking the bus to school)

If you suspect bullying but your child is reluctant to open up, find ways to bring up the issue. For instance, you might see a situation on a TV show and ask, "What do you think of this?" or "What do you think that person should have done?" This might lead to questions like: "Have you ever seen this happen?" or "Have you ever experienced this?" You might want to talk about any experiences you or another family member had at that age.

Let your kids know that if they are being bullied or harassed or see it happening to someone else. It is important to talk to someone about it, whether it is you, another adult (a teacher, school counselor, or family friend), or a sibling.

Recent research shows that long-term consequences of bullying include higher risk for depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse and self-destructive behavior. That is the bad news, but the good news is that you can help your child develop the skills to stand up to bullying behavior, and you can keep him   becoming a bully. How?

Model confident, respectful behavior with other people.

If you lose your temper and curse out other drivers, even from the privacy of your own car, you are teaching your child that sometimes it is okay to disrespect other people. Conversely, if you tend to back down easily so you do not make a scene, but then later feel pushed-around, it is time to change that. Your child is learning from watching you. Experiment with finding ways to assert your own needs or rights while maintaining respect for the other person, and model treating everyone with respect, even when you disagree.

Stay connected to your child through thick and thin.

Lonely kids are more likely to be bullied. And kids are often ashamed that they are being bullied, so they are hesitant to tell their parents. If your child knows that you will always listen, and that you have their back, they are more likely to talk with you about things that upset them.

How do you make sure your child would tell you if they were being bullied? Remember, parenting is 80% connection -- a close relationship with your child -- and only 20% guidance. The guidance will not stick unless you have the relationship to support it and will just drive your child away. So, prioritize your relationship with your child, and keep those lines of communication open, no matter what.

Directly teach your child respectful self-assertion.

Kids need to learn that they can get their needs met while being respectful of other people. Give him words to stick up for himself early on like “its my turn now”, “Hey, stop that”, “Hands off my body”, “It’s not ok to hurt”, “I don’t like you to call me that, I like you to call me by your name”.

Teach your child basic social skills.

Unfortunately, bullies’ prey on kids whom they perceive to be vulnerable. If you have a child who has social-skill challenges, make it a priority to support your child in all the other ways listed in this article, to make him less attractive to bullies. Then, make games out of social skills, and practice at home. Role play with your child how to join a game at the playground, introduce himself to another child at a party, or initiate a playdate. For instance, kids who are successful in joining groups of kids usually observe first, and find a way to fit into the group, rather than just barging in.

Sometimes kids want peer acceptance so much that they continue to hang around a group of peers even when one of the group leaders begins to mistreat them. If you suspect your child might be vulnerable, listen to what he says about peer interactions to help him learn to check in with his own inner wisdom, and work to provide healthy relationship opportunities for him.

Do not hesitate to intervene.

Your job as the parent is to protect your child. That means that in addition to teaching your child to stick up for herself, you may well need to call the teacher or principal. Do not give your child the message that he is all alone to handle this. And do not assume that if there is not physical violence, she isn't being wounded in a deep way. Despite the old rhyme about words not hurting, mean words and isolation are terribly damaging to a child or teen's psyche, and research shows they can cause lasting negative effects. If the school cannot protect your child, consider transferring to a different school, or even homeschooling.

Dealing with bullying can hurt a child's confidence. To help rebuild it, encourage your kids to spend time with friends who have a positive influence. Participation in clubs, sports, or other enjoyable activities builds strength and friendships.

Provide a listening ear about tough situations but encourage your kids to also tell you about the good parts of their day and listen attentively. Make sure they know you believe in them and that you will do what you can to address any bullying.

Happy Parenting!!

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