Alright, alright, you got me. There isn’t any such thing as a cure-all for bullying or a way to make your child 100% bully-proof for all the days they will walk this planet. It isn’t possible to keep any and everyone from ever making fun of your child. And there are many factors that will make your child more likely to be the target of bullying that are completely, or at least somewhat, out of your control (like glasses, braces, acne, racial/cultural differences, religion, disabilities, disorders, etc). However, there are also things that are within your control that you can do to greatly reduce the likelihood that your child will suffer from bullying.
Why should you listen to me? Well, let me give you some credentials real quick so you can trust me a little easier and know that, even though my kids are not at the age where bullying becomes a problem yet, I kind of know what I’m talking about. After taking (and doing very very well in) an Advanced Placement psychology class in high school, I fell in love with the field. I realized it’s what I wanted to go to school and learn more about. So a year later when I started at The University of South Florida on a Bright Futures scholarship, that is what I chose as my major. After most of college with this as my major, and the majority of my classes being psychology classes, I decided to change my major, slightly. Rather than move away from psychology, which I still really loved, I added on four geography related classes so my official major could be Interdisciplinary Social Sciences with a focus in both psychology and geography (this would make me more well-rounded and better able to teach high school someday as a geography/social studies teacher). I still took 90% psychology classes though and tell people my degree is in psychology because it’s easier than explaining what the heck Interdisciplinary Social Sciences means. But that’s not all. After I graduated in 2011, I spent the next 2 years working as a PSR worker (PSR= Psycho Social Rehabilitation) where I worked with people ranging in ages 5-75 who had various mental illnesses ranging from ADHD to Borderline Personality Disorder, helping them learn coping skills for their mental illnesses, and social/life skills to help them better their lives. I worked with NUMEROUS kids who were the targets of bullying and learned tons of techniques for dealing with bullying that I then helped them with, and through the process I’ve also learned a lot about what are some of the most common targets for bullies. During this time I also started a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling, which is currently on hold while I help my husband (and we put all our financial resources toward) finishing his bachelor’s degree, which to me is more important at this time. Oh, and I’ve also been to countless mental health conventions/summits/online clinics/courses as part of my required continuing education requirements for my job as a PSR worker, including one 3-day convention that was completely focused on child/teen mental health. I learned a ton at those too. So, basically, just trust me. This kind of stuff is my jam.
5 tips for Bully-proofing your child:
1- Hygiene and Appearance.
Make sure your kids are clean, smell clean (or at least, don’t smell bad), have brushed teeth, and are wearing clothing that, at the very least, fits them well and are age-appropriate. You don’t have to spend tons of money on expensive name-brand clothing to do this. *Chrissy’s post a couple of weeks back talks about dressing your kids well without breaking the bank* Even if you can’t afford to buy the clearance sale name-brand clothing, you can still dress your kids in clean clothes that are age appropriate and decade appropriate and that fit them well. Bullies target kids who have bad hygiene or wear “weird” or dirty clothes. The hygiene part is super important. PLEASE make sure your child starts wearing deodorant at the appropriate age (this and bad oral hygiene are probably the two biggest hygiene-related targets for bullies). Also, if you don’t believe me on this or are offended that I am bringing up a shallow point, here’s a link to another article that emphasizes this. I could find more sources, and probably some more legit sources as well, but I really don’t feel the need to spend that much time convincing you. If you really wanted to, you could look up more sources for yourself. Appearance/hygiene is important if you want to reduce your child’s chances of being bullied. If you have the ability, dressing them in fashionable clothes definitely doesn’t hurt, as long you are careful about not sending the message to your kids that clothes are more important than people or are an acceptable method for judging a person’s character/value, because then you pose the risk that your children will become the bully.
2- Create a mistake-friendly, humor-filled environment at home.
Teach your kids to be able to laugh at themselves when they’ve done something clumsy or silly. Teach them to not take themselves too seriously and to be able to make fun of themselves. Not make fun of themselves in a self-demeaning, or critical way, but in a light, humorous way that promotes the idea that mistakes are okay and sometimes funny. We all make mistakes, and most of them are fixable. Don’t make a huge deal when your child spills something or is clumsy. Teach them that what is important is that they try again and do their best to fix what they did wrong (by cleaning up the spill or helping fix what they broke, or even earning money to replace it). Help them not be too sensitive to teasing by helping them go along with it. The child who trips and falls and makes fun of themselves and laughs along is much less likely to be a target for bullying versus the child who gets super embarrassed and then starts yelling at everyone who is laughing to shut up and leave them alone . The child who gets all worked up is going to be a much more “fun” target for the bully because what they are looking for is to get a rise out of their target. How your child views teasing makes a difference. If they have a victim mentality they will act like a victim. You can’t control what a bully might say or do but you can control how easily a child gets upset and what they choose to get upset over, because, yes that’s right, a person can choose what types of things will upset or offend them and what won’t, by changing the way they view these things (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, anyone?). Some people get offended over everything and some people rarely get offended. You could argue that part of that is in their nature, but I would argue that a big part of it is nurture and is a changeable trait. Just do your best to help your child bring humor into these situations and the likelihood of bullying will go down.
3- Sign them up for an extra-curricular activity and/or help them volunteer in the community!
Both of these things have been proven to boost self-esteem and self-esteem is soooo important for avoiding being the target of bullying. It’s like kids have an extra sense to be able to sniff out the unfortunate kid who has a low self-esteem and no friends, and that’s exactly who gets targeted for bullying, unfortunately. Doing an extra-curricular helps boost confidence by helping kids realize that they can achieve goals if they work toward them and that they are capable of learning new skills. Plus it helps them have diverse interests, which makes them more interesting people. Volunteering in the community helps them realize that they can make a difference in other peoples’ lives and that they can help change the world for the better. It helps them feel like they can take on the world. Also, both of these things help kids learn good social skills and help them make friends. If they are super shy, getting them involved in something can really help that. The social aspect of development often is underrated in comparison to other areas that are more “academic” but having good social skills is so helpful for being happy and successful in life. And if you see a problem area, socially, for your child (like they talk too loud, too fast, interrupt, have bad manners, don’t share, very shy, etc) look for ways to try and help them overcome the challenge, like practice scenarios at home and talk about socially appropriate behaviors, and of course, model the behavior you’d like to see. Give them opportunities (and time! learning good social skills won’t happen overnight) to practice what they’ve learned. Also, give them genuine and specific compliments, rather than generic, empty ones, when they do well and this will help boost their confidence as well (ex. “Wow! I love your use of color in this picture, you did awesome” vs “Good job!”).
4- Teach “Fake it till you make it.”
Consider this Confidence: pt 2 (part 1 was the part about extra-curriculars). If your child is already suffering from low confidence/low self-esteem, teach them to fake it till they make it. There are ways to act/look confident even if one doesn’t actually feel that way. Making eye contact, having good posture, speaking clearly, and smiling often are some very basic ways you can send a confident signal with your body language. Teach your kids these things. That way, even if they are struggling internally, you have a quicker fix than an extra-curricular (more of a long-term fix) could provide. If they seem fairly confident on the outside, they will be much less likely to be targeted by bullies. Moreover, the more they act confident, the more it’ll become true because they will start to feel more confident.
5- Bully education.
Sit down and talk to your child about bullying. Help them understand some of the reasons why bullying occurs, what to do if they are being bullied or see someone else being bullied, what kinds of things make people more susceptible to bullying, and how to avoid scenarios where bullying is most likely (like areas where there is very limited adult supervision). The more education you provide for your child on the matter, the better able they are to arm themselves and be ready to respond appropriately when they see, or experience, bullying at their school. Knowledge is everything. I plan to revisit this issue in a later post and give ideas and tips for dealing with bullying when it occurs, so check back from time to time for that.
As you can tell by now, the biggest thing you can do as a parent is promote confidence. Raising a confident child is your best defense against bullying, besides doing what we can in the community to raise awareness and teach about bullying at schools. There are a lot of changes going on in communities in favor of educating kids about the realities of bullying, but there still needs to be more. If we all work together, we can help reduce bullying at schools. It’s so important, as parents, to educate our children and look for signs that their child is being targeted OR exhibiting bully behavior. As parents, we also need to realize that our children are not exempt from exhibiting bully behavior just because they are “generally a good kid.” Even good kids sometimes make bad mistakes or give in to social pressures to fit in. We cannot allow ourselves to be blind to the mistakes our own children make if they are bullying, and we cannot afford to be blind to the struggles our kids are going through if they are being targeted. The biggest change we can make in the community starts in our own homes.
And here’s a link to a blog post I found online with more tips for raising confident kids.