Bullying is at an all-time high. Approximately 20 percent of students report being bullied at school, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Bullying can involve verbal attacks, name calling and making fun of others, exclusion from activities, or even threats of harm. Physical aggression is more common when kids are younger and later on relational aggression, social exclusion and spreading rumors, are more typical. Most bullying occurs in and around school and on playgrounds. Both boys and girls are equally likely to be bullied.

Bullies generally choose victims who lack assertiveness, appear under-confident and are more fearful in general. Bullies particularly prey on children who become upset when they are picked on and don’t have other kids who come to their defense.

It then becomes a cyclical process. Victims easily acquiesce to a bully's demands, handing over bikes, toys, and other playthings. They assume a defensive victim-like posture. This makes it even more appealing for the bully to bully them.

The best way to keep our children safe is to bully-proof them by giving them the skills, confidence and assertiveness they need to avoid being put into that victim state to begin with. We also want to give them tools and strategies to avoid being a passive bystander. We don’t want them to stand by when another child is being bullied.

Here are ways to do that:

Create a Loving Home Environment:

Children who grow up in a loving and warm environment will less likely be bullied or become the bully. Children who see a good relationship between their parents will feel safe and more confident in general.

If parents are overly reliant on power or aggression to gain what they want from their child or their spouse, then children will learn that power and force are the way to handle interpersonal problems. They won’t just use these lessons at home, they will bring them out into the world, their school and their community. This can cause them to be either the bully or the victim.

Teach Kids to be Upstanders:

Children are the best people to help stop bullying. Adults are not always around but other children are generally in the vicinity of the bully.

Teach your kids the following:

  • Physically stand with the victim
  • Turn them away from the bully, and walk with them in a different direction.

If that doesn’t work, they can try to get other kids on their side, by saying something simple and unemotional, like, “We don’t allow bullying here.” Or “We are all in this together, no bullying on our playground.” They then can all walk away with the victim.

It is important for children to know that if they don’t feel that they can handle the situation, or they feel like it is getting out of control, they can and should involve an adult.

Teach Your Child to Be Assertive

Bullies avoid kids who are assertive. Children need to learn how to communicate in an assertive manner.

Body Language:

Assertiveness can start with body language. Strong eye contact, standing up tall, and using a calm and even tone of voice is ideal. It is important to mention, that getting in a bully’s face, can create more tension and aggression. Of equal consequence is helping them understand that looking away and shrinking body posture can invite more abuse from the bully.

Teach Them Bully-Proof Language:

We can also teach kids healthy assertive ways to communicate so that they can extricate themselves from these harmful interactions. We want to teach children that language is their best defense against bullies. Some escape tactics are:

Bullying Comment

Response Tactic

Example of Response Tactic

“You’re so ugly.”

Assertive Statement:

In a strong voice: “Leave me alone.”

“You’re so stupid.”

Negative Assertions: Agree with the weakness and expand on it.

“I know, and this is a good day for me!”

“You’re a baby.”

Neutral Responses:

“Thanks for letting me know!”

“You’re the worst soccer player ever.”

Crazy Response: This disarms the bully because an angry response is what they expected. Use these judiciously.

“No, I have enough pencils for class today!”

“You are so smelly.”

“I” statements: (These should be used with people who the child still wants to maintain a relationship with. That is usually not the case with a bully.)

“I don’t like when you talk to me that way!” “That hurts my feelings!”

Role Plays:

It is always best if you have some practice with these techniques before you actually have to use them. My colleague, a school psychologist, roleplays with children the above responses. She also helps them assume the postures we mentioned above. She also validates their feelings while coaching them, “I know what the bully is saying is very painful. It hurts a lot. Make sure they don’t see you be sad or upset! You can always tell your parent or friend how upset you are, but not the bully.” Remind them that the bully is looking for a response that makes them feel powerful. Fighting back or reacting emotionally just makes it worse

She would also explain to them that they can’t control the bully, but they do have full control over their own actions. They have the power to defuse the situation. This is great advice but also works to build up their confidence and assertiveness.

Bullying can be painful and hurtful. Bully-proofing our children needs to be a priority. Teaching them to stand up for victims, assertive body postures and language can all help.

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