Bullying is not just friendly teasing. Instead, bullying can take a dramatic toll on a child’s life and emotional well-being, as the recent slate of stories in the news about bullying have made clear. While you should always believe your child and step in to intervene if your child is being bullied, there are things you can do to prevent your child from being bullied. It’s important to note that none of these strategies guarantee protection from bullying, and if your child is being bullied it is certainly not her fault. Nevertheless, preventing bullying in the first place is easier than stopping it after it has happened. Here’s what you can do:
Encourage Strong Friendships
Even if your child is a nerdy bookworm, this doesn’t mean bullying is inevitable. Children who have close friendships are less likely to be bullied because a loner is an easier target. Encourage your child to develop friendships with other kids who share his interests, and if he’s concerned about being bullied, get him to use the “buddy system” and avoid spending time alone at school.
Teach Emotional Self Control
Bullies typically “test” kids out before they pick a child as their target, and children who react strongly reward the bully with exactly what she wants. Teach your child to walk away from a child who is bullying her and not to react with anger or fear. Deflecting the bully with humor can also work wonders and remove control from the bully while putting control back in the hands of your child.
Work With Your Child’s School
The most effective bully-prevention programs are those that involve the whole school. When an entire community feels responsible for a problem, it’s more likely to end. If you’re concerned about bullying in your child’s school, talk to the school about running a schoolwide bullying education program, and point out to the school how preventing bullying can save lives.
Help Your Child Manage Aggression
Common wisdom is that bullies are always aggressors who spend their days plotting to ruin other children’s lives. But the truth is that it is often bullied children who then bully other children as a way to raise self esteem. Teach your child appropriate ways of managing aggression to ensure he does not become a bully himself. And avoid an overly authoritarian parenting style, which research has repeatedly linked to becoming a bully and to being bullied.
Children are more likely to be repeatedly targeted by bullies if they appear to be an easy target. Teach your child to walk assertively, with her head held high. And most importantly, work on building up her self esteem and self respect. A child who believes in herself is more likely to carry herself confidently, which makes her less likely to become a target of bullies.
Work on Social Skills
Children with weak social skills are more likely to experience social isolation, which is in turn more likely to cause them to be bullied. If your child is shy or has trouble making friends, consider enrolling her in some fun group activities or even a social skills class. Practice talking to other kids at home, and encourage her to reach out and make friendships.