Most of us had our share of awkward teenage years, and in the worst of cases, that awkwardness made us prime targets for aggressive peers who had nothing better to do than prey on our insecurities. Unfortunately, now that kids are constantly connected through cell phones and social media, that awkwardness—and the bullying that often accompanies it—can creep up even earlier, sometimes even in elementary school.
According to STOMP Out Bullying, a national anti-bullying organization, a child is bullied every seven minutes. Worse yet? Peer intervention only occurs 11 percent of the time, adult intervention in four percent of bullying cases. A whopping 85% of the time, there is no intervention at all.
It’s obvious, then, that parents must do everything in their power to prevent bullying from even occurring in the first place. And while guaranteeing that another child will never be mean to your kid or treat him unfairly, there are ways to ensure that the bad behavior doesn’t escalate. Here’s what the experts have to say.
Value kindness and empathy: Children that can empathize with others have a different mindset when it comes to mean/aggressive behavior. It is less about them and more about others. This skill comes in handy when faced with internalizing the bully’s hurtful message, and if a bully is unable to hurt his/her victim, he is likely to move to a different target. Children that value kindness and can empathize are also more likely to stand up for and support other targets.—Jennifer Miller, School Counselor
Become and advocate: I encourage all parents to advocate for comprehensive anti-bullying programs in their school systems that not only teach the children who are potential targets to defend themselves, but also work with bullies to change their patterns of behavior. These programs would work with teachers, counselors, parents, store owners and police to develop a respectful community that teaches children not to hurt one another. There are many programs, but be sure they address all sides of the issue. Zero tolerance which simply suspends the bully is not an answer. It may lead to a more disgruntled child plotting to do harm.—Barbara Lavi, Clinical Psychologist, Weston, CT
Teach playground politics: This generation of young people has not developed some of the life skills kids did thirty years ago because adults take care of problems for them. We have removed the need for them to navigate hardships—such as little arguments among playmates or even siblings. We rescue too quickly, and it makes them wholly unprepared for
adulthood. As parents and leaders, we must stop helicopter parenting and equip our kids with the soft skills to be able to talk to and read the feelings and emotions of others to ultimately solve relational issues on their own. If kids don’t learn the fundamentals of positive interaction with others, the consequences can be enormous later. This is where teasing turns into bullying.—Dr. Tim Elmore, parenting expert and president of Growing Leaders
Avoid victim behavior: When you are feeling victimized or powerless, your kids will absorb those feelings. Even worse, when you bully yourself—and so many of us do, with cruel comments like, “You’re such an idiot!” and “How could you do such a thing?!”—you model that it’s okay for someone you love, and your kids love, to be bullied. There are always going to be external circumstances that may be beyond your control, but one thing is in your control: how you respond to the situation. Your child’s ability to be resilient—to step out of the fray—will, in part, be a reflection of your ability to do the same in your world. If your child can let bullying behavior roll off, or reframe it, or otherwise handle it without taking it personally, then your child will ultimately outlast the bully!—Elaine Taylor-Klaus, parent coach and co-founder, Impact ADHD
Don’t bully your child at home: Children who are raised in unkind homes by parents who use control, manipulation, rewards and punishments are going to raise children who are either treated the same way by peers, or will become bullies themselves. It is an environmental problem. If you want to have a self-confident child, then you need to treat the child in a gentle, kind, respectful and loving way. If a child does something he or she is not supposed to, a gentle word with re-direction suffices. It’s very simple. When children are treated kindly at home they develop self-confidence, and a self-confident child will not be bullied. He will actually defend other children who are being bullied.—Monique Prince, parenting coach and Clinical Social Worker