Do Not Feed the Bullies: Teaching Kids Self-Confidence and Courage
Have you had "the talk" about bullying with your kids? What would you say?
Kids are mean. I mean, people of all ages can be mean, but it's more shocking when the meanness comes from a child; like baby vampires, so small and cute, but then bloodthirsty killers at the same time. It's quite alarming! (Like the Twilight analogy?)
Cute or otherwise, when my child comes home deflated and brokenhearted over something said to them at school, on the playground or school bus, it makes me want to go Momma Bear rage all over said twerp!
During a recent "What do we do?!" parental pow wow, my husband and I discovered that we come from two different schools of thought on how to deal with bullying.
I, above rage comment aside, am more of a girl scout pacifist, turn-the-other-cheek kind of gal, and am inclined to tell my child to ignore a bully and tell an adult. I can't say I recall being bullied as a kid. I was either lucky, or the kids knew my mom was a teacher, so they left me alone.
My husband, however, was bullied as a child. He was the youngest kid on the block, and therefore the target for the bigger kids. He learned to deal with bullying by talking back, and using humor and sarcasm to deflect their attacks. And then, he entered 6th grade and grew a few feet, and well, kids don't pick on the six foot 13-year-old. He's often told he has a great sense of humor, and a very quick wit. Thank you, Bonnell Street bullies!
After initially coaching my daughter to not confront the bully, but avoid them or ignore them, I've come to find that my techniques just don't seem to work. She gets the opposite result in fact. Either the bully is satisfied that she has driven off my daughter, or can tell that her words are having the desired effect just by seeing her nonverbal clues.
So, I'm aligning myself with my hubby's quick wit school of thought, and we're teaching her how to respond to verbal bullying through family discussion and role plays. We certainly always want her to talk with us about any problems she maybe having and will jump to her aid when needed, but we're now arming her with tools she can use to get through whatever bullying situations in which she finds herself.
Self Affirmation Starting at Home
Step one of supporting your child when he/she has been bullied is to remind them that the bully's words are not true. Children need to hear how special they are and feel good about themselves, so they don't believe the harmful things that can be said. I always keep in mind the quote from The Help, "You is kind. You is smart. You is important." They need to hear it, often, so they believe it in the face of whatever or whomever they encounter.
Do Not Feed the Bully!
Bullies feed on fear, so even if someone choses to try to ignore what a bully is saying, often the nonverbal messages he is sending out show the bully that he/she is really winning. In his paper "Bully Proofing Youth Techniques," James Patrick Bisenius describes how you can change your nonverbal behavior to appear more relaxed and avoiding sending out those nervous and fearful messages.
Head: Hold your head up, even though it's tempting to lower your chin when you are feeling uncomfortable.
Eyes: Keep your eyes up also. Looking down at your lap or feet will show the bully he's got the upper hand. Look at something off in the distance, like a clock on the wall to hold your focus. You'll be less likely to look around yourself nervously.
Mouth: Avoid the trembly chin. This is a hard one, especially if you're a crier like me, but if you feel the chin tremble coming on, press your tongue to the roof of your mouth behind your teeth. This will keep your chin from quivering.
Breathing: Fear makes you breathe faster, so slowing your breath will help calm you down. Try counting to three as you breath in and counting to three as you breathe out again. You can also fake a small yawn. That not only makes you appear calm, bored even, but faking a yawn can also bring on a real yawn, which in turn really will relax you.
Witty Comebacks for Kids
Walking away or avoiding the bully is not always an option for kids, especially on the school playground or school bus, so having a comeback or two on hand, may help get your child through an uncomfortable situation. The point of these responses is not to act ugly, to stoop to the bully's level, or get themselves in trouble for saying bad things, but simply to stop the bullying, and possibly diffuse the situation either by bringing the bad behavior to their own attention, or showing the bully that she's not bothered by her antics. Here's what I have so far for the elementary crowd:
"Whatever, (insert bully name here)!" in a very "Clueless"-style manner.
Bully: "We don't want to be friends with you!"
Response: "That's okay, who wants to be friends with a bully!" and turn around, or walk away if possible.
Being made fun of? Try extreme sarcasm: "You're HIL-AR-IOUS! Really! So funny!" (fake laugh)
Or just be weird..."I'm sorry, I didn't hear you. What did you say?" If they start to repeat, interrupt, "WHAT? I can't hear you."
Then there are the classics:
"I know you are, but what am I?" Pee-wee Herman voice is optional.
"I'm rubber, you're glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you!"
I know that by teaching my child sarcasm and quick wit, I'm doomed to hear these words targeted in my direction someday, but I'm okay with that. In those moments when I cannot be with her, when the teacher's out of earshot, when my child is most vulnerable to a bully situation, I know she will have the know-how to protect herself from verbal attacks, and still feel comfortable talking to me about it afterwards.
Giving her the confidence that she can use her words to stand up for herself is a skill that will be useful her whole life. I'll try to remind myself of that the day I hear her quickly respond, "Whatever, Mom."