"Why are you reading that girly book?" the bully on the bus asked my 11-year old son, who told me about the incident later that day.
We talked through what had happened, and I could tell he was shaken by the incident. As we talked, he decided that the next time it occurred, using humour would be the best way for him to respond. We had fun role-playing this before his bus ride the next day.
Sure enough, the bully was at it again: "Are you still reading that girly book?"
“Yep,” my son said without skipping a beat, "Thanks for letting me borrow it!"
That got laughs from the kids on the bus. Even the bully cracked an appreciative smile.
Many parents struggle knowing how to deal with the situation when our children are bullied. We fear that if we intervene in the wrong way, we could potentially make life harder for them. On the other hand, we do not want to demoralise their spirit by leaving them to fend for themselves without equipping them with appropriate resources.
How can parents help children deal with bullies on the bus, playground or wherever? Here’s some practical advice:
Role-Play With Your Child
One of the best ways to prepare your children to handle bullying situations is through role-playing at home. The key to teaching them to deal with bullies is to familiarise yourself with your kids' individual personality. Knowing your children well will help you equip them with the proper skills needed to respond to a bully.
Cater the role-playing to your children’s comfort level. If they do not feel comfortable in the ways you practice responding, your children will have trouble using those methods when the situation arises. Instead, equip them with effective responses based on their disposition.
Before you act out the situation at home, find out where the bullying is taking place. Typically, bullying takes place in areas where bullies feel empowered to do as they please, such as on the playground, in the bathroom, on the school bus and so forth.
Talk through different response options before the next time bullying might take place, and then act it out. The home is the safest place in which to prepare for real-world issues.
Here are some strategies your children could use:
Tell an Adult. Even if the bullying is more verbal than physical, it always has the potential to escalate. To ensure that your kids’ safety is not threatened, let them know that it is appropriate and necessary to tell an adult.
Talk with your children about which adult, in a particular setting, could help most the next time bullying occurs. Make sure the adult your children turn to will not treat their concerns lightly but will properly deal with bullying behaviour.
Avoid/Walk Away. Encourage your children to avoid areas where the bullying is taking place, even if that means taking another hallway or using a different bathroom.
Of course, encountering bullies may be inevitable. If your children encounter bullies who begin picking on them, have your kids practice walking away and simply ignoring them.
Deflect/Use Humour. Deflection can be used to get bullies’ attention on something else for the moment, creating an opportunity for your children to remove themselves from the situation. If your kids have a sense of humour, using humour appropriately could be a working tactic as well.
Take a Stand. If responding to aggression or physical bullying, teach your children to stand up to bullies.
"Be strong and courageous," Moses encouraged God’s people (Deuteronomy 31:6). "Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."
Encourage your kids with this verse and remind them that the Lord is always with them. Then, practice phrases your kids can say at a time of particular need, such as "please stop" and "that's not cool."
Have your children practice deliberately looking you in the eye and responding. But be sure there is ample space between you as you practice — you don’t want bullies to get the impression that your children want to escalate the encounter into a fight.
It is our job as parents to teach kids how to handle real-life situations with confidence and maturity. Remember to talk through the situation with your children, discuss their options, and then practice at home. Have fun with it so that the exercise does not become a high-pressure situation. Rather, create an opportunity through which your children learn to thrive!