Sticks and stones may break my bones: How to prepare your child for bullies

Because bullying is usually kept secret, both parents and teachers tend to underestimate how often it occurs. The bullied child is typically both frightened and ashamed and doesn't like talking about it.

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  • The statistics for incidents of bullying, especially at school, are abysmal. When Wendy Craig and Debra Pepler (1997) videotaped and recorded bullying on Toronto, Canada playgrounds they reported an act of bullying every seven minutes.

  • The statistics in the U.S are similar. In fact, more than half of students encounter verbal sexual harassment at school either often or at least occasionally. One-third of students experience physical sexual harassment just as often (American Association of University Women, 2001).

  • Spreading rumors or gossip is also a form of bullying and can be every bit as damaging as physical threats. Girls are more likely to engage in this type of emotional bullying.

  • What about cyber bullying? According to a study of students in grades 4-8, about 40 percent have been bullied online.

  • Cyber bullying may be one of the most dangerous forms of bullying. Ugly texts or harmful pictures can be posted anonymously and can go viral quickly. This type of junk can also remain in cyber space indefinitely. Encourage your children not to participate in these types of negative communications and ignore potentially hurtful posts about themselves.

  • The children most at risk of being bullied are in middle school. Is your child being bullied? If he was, would you know about it? More importantly, what can you do to prepare your child for bullies?

  • Because bullying is usually kept secret, both parents and teachers tend to underestimate how often it occurs. The bullied child is typically both frightened and ashamed and doesn't like talking about it.

  • As strange as it may sound, the best way to get your child to talk about bullying is to normalize it. In the book, "Bullyproofing Your Children," Ethan Watters suggests saying things like, "Sometimes people act in ways that hurt each other. Sometimes we don't let on that it hurts because we're embarrassed or uncomfortable. If that's happening, you can let me know." This form of communication helps your children realize they're not alone. He has an important ally in you.

  • Perhaps, the worst thing you can do as a parent is to overreact by getting angry or teary. The message this sends to your child is, "This situation is as bad as you think it is." Manage the situation calmly and rationally. Discuss ways together to cope with the problem. Make sure your child knows this is not about him. This is about someone who has not yet learned to behave appropriately toward others.

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  • Should you encourage your child to fight the bully? No. That will likely escalate the situation and may get your child in trouble at school. Encourage your child to ignore the bully. Bullies feed on anger, tears, and drama. It makes them feel powerful. Deprive them of that perverse pleasure by not responding to their threatening antics.

  • Tell your child to stick with buddies, especially during prime "bully time" like recess, lunch, and after school. Bullies are less likely to pick on children in groups.

  • Make certain your child reports any incidents of bullying to school authorities immediately. Does your school or district have a No-Bullying policy? If not, make sure they get one.

  • Bullies tend to pick on people they think are weaker. This is never the victim's fault. However, a child who projects an air of confidence is less likely to be bullied. What is your child's body language? Does she walk with her head down rather than up? Does he stuff his hands in his pockets? Does she look people in the eye?

  • Build your child's confidence by helping her try new things. Establish a positive atmosphere in your home where mistakes are OK and are seen as opportunities to try again and do things differently. Coach your child through disappointments. Let him know it happens to everyone.

  • Encourage your child to establish friendships. Invite his friends to your home. Look for school activities and after-school activities that are of interest to your child. Positive social interaction with peers will also boost your child's self-confidence.

  • As parents, we'd like to protect our children from everything, including bullies. This is not always possible. The best thing we can do is help them find solutions that work best for them.

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