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Behavior Makeover: Bullied

Four Steps to Handle Bullies
Use the following steps as a guide to help your kid deal with bullies.

Step 1. Listen Empathically and Gather Facts
The first step is often the hardest for parents: listen calmly to your kid's story without interrupting. Your goal is to try to figure out what happened, where and when the bullying took place, how frequently this is happening, who was involved, whether anyone helped, and why your kid is being targeted. Also find out how your kid responded to the bully. These facts will help you find the best way to help your kid deal with his tormentor. Keep a record of these incidents in case you need to meet with school officials, the bully's parents, or law enforcement officers.

Do empathize with your child and take his complaints seriously. Assure him that chances are he did nothing to provoke the incident and that you will help him find ways to feel safe. Please don't blame or belittle his feelings by saying, "There's nothing to be afraid of," or "Just toughen up." Bullying is frightening and humiliating. If you suspect your kid is being bullied and isn't telling you, I've included a few possible indicators. Check the ones that apply to your child:

Warning Signs of Being Bullied

  • Unexplained bruises or scrapes, torn clothing
  • Unexplained loss of toys, school supplies, clothing, lunches, or money
  • Doesn't want to go to school; wants you there at dismissal
  • Suddenly sullen, evasive, or displays out-of- character behavior
  • Onset of headaches, stomachaches, or anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping, has nightmares or bed wetting, or is overtired
  • Begins bullying siblings or younger kids
  • Ravenous when he comes home (lunch money or lunch may be stolen)
  • Afraid to be left alone or suddenly clingy
Talk to your child if you suspect a problem: he may be embarrassed to tell you. Then decide if you should inform school officials of your concerns. Don't promise your child you'll keep this a secret: you may have to step in to protect his safety.

Step 2. Set a Plan to Ensure Safety
Based on the facts you gathered, you must now plan how to reduce the chances of your kid's getting hurt. Here are a few options you can share with your kid depending on the situation:

  • Stay near others. Bullying usually happens during unsupervised times, so tell your kid to be near others at lunch, recess, in hallways, or other open areas. There is safety in numbers.

  • Leave the scene. The safest strategy is often just to leave. Don't say anything to the bully and avoid eye contact. Move toward an adult, a crowd, or older kids if possible.

  • Plan alternate routes. Decide when and where the bullying most often occurs, and then find safer routes. If it's on the bus, find other transportation. If it's in the park, stay away.

  • Don't retaliate. Advise him not to hit back; it will only increase the risk of getting hurt. Too many kids are carrying weapons, so hit back only as a last resort.

  • Use good judgment. Teach your kid the best safety rule: always act on your gut instinct. If you feel you could be in danger, get away fast. Drop your backpack and run.

  • Tell an adult. Decide which adult is safe to tell: someone who will take the report seriously, deal with the bully, protect your kid, and, if necessary, keep his identity secret.
Step 3. Teach and Then Rehearse Assertiveness
Telling your kid, "Just get him to stop," does not work. Bullies rarely just go away, so offer ways to handle a bully if he must face him, though it's better to avoid him. Then help your child practice any of the following tips that he thinks might work best for his situation:
  • Stay calm and do not react. Bullies love power and knowing they can push other kids' buttons, so don't let the bully know he upset you. Pretend you're wearing a special bully-proof vest that bounces his taunts off you so you don't look afraid.

  • Don't look like a victim. Kids who use assertive posture are less likely to be bullied. Stand tall and hold your head up to appear more confident and less vulnerable.

  • Say no firmly. If you talk to a bully, use a firm, strong voice (never a whiny, wimpy, or afraid one). Say no to his demands, or tell him you do not like what he is doing and will not put up with it. Keep repeating yourself until you can walk to an adult who can help.

  • Use a stone-faced glare. Practice using a mean stare that goes straight through the bully so you seem in control and not bothered.

  • Teach comebacks. Most bullying is verbal: name calling, insults, prejudicial slurs. Help your kid buffer verbal bullying before it turns into physical abuse.
Step 4. Boost Self-Confidence
Research conducted by Kaoru Yamamoto, a psychologist at the University of Colorado, found that next to losing the security of family, a kid's biggest concern is losing face with peers. Being bullied dramatically affects your child's self-esteem, so find ways to boost her confidence. Here are a few possibilities:
  • Learn martial arts. Some kids find that learning martial arts, boxing, or weight-lifting improves their self-confidence. Might this be your kid?

  • Boost social skills. If a bully targets your child because his social skills need work, coach a few new ones, and then have him join clubs to practice them.

  • Find a friend. Help your child find at least one friend.

  • Develop a talent. Find an avenue – such as a hobby, interest, sport, or talent – that your kid enjoys and can excel at. Then help her develop the skill so her self-esteem grows.


From No More Misbehavin' by Michele Borba, Ed.D. Copyright © 2003 by Michele Borba. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Buy the book at www.amazon.com.

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