When I was fourteen years old, I faced my first potential bully. Our interaction ended when I stood up to her and spit a mouthful of ice in her face.
As my children grew older, they were filled with the usual apprehension at the end of each summer, wondering if they’d have time for basketball amidst all the studying, writing, and reading that’s required in school. They also worried about girls and how to appeal to them.
These are normal concerns.
What about kids who have these worries on top of more serious issues? What about the boy who gets his ass kicked for wearing the *wrong* pair of shoes? What about the girl who can’t sleep at night because classmates harass her for liking other girls?
Thanks to anti-bullying campaigns, students and teachers are aware of warning signs and that has led to more interventions and fewer incidences.
But bullies exist in every stage of life, from elementary school through college and even in some professional settings. Learning how to deal with them at a young age is best because the longer it takes us to find our backbone, the less chance there is that we’ll use it.
What can a parent do to ensure that their kids are neither bullies nor victims? How can we raise them to embrace leadership roles, discouraging others from bullying, too?
If I knew that formula, I’d sell it to some Democrats in Congress and retire to Key West.
Parenting is an art as much as a science, but I’ve talked with a few experts, including fellow parents, former bullies, and victims, to compile this list of helpful hints for anyone who deals with meanies on a regular basis.
Parents should start years ahead of time and instill some worth in their kids when they’re babies. Respond to needs, show empathy and compassion, use kind and loving words – this helps your baby grow into a secure and confident child, one who won’t be easily bullied or feel the need to bully others.
Middle and high school bullies can be beat. Here’s how you can help your kids:
1. Tell them to stop whining and get tough. Why are they walking with their heads down? I’m assuming they want to go around with pink hair and ten rings in their lips. They should be proud of who they are with shoulders back and heads up. Have them look people in the eye. Every once in a while, they should try smiling.
Back in the 1980s, I thought I was the only girl around with frizzy hair and skin so pale it glowed. Quite frankly, I was. I only had my school in my hometown as a reference. Kids, and parents, now have the World Wide Web, so get online and find a support group. If you or your kids can’t locate an organized collection of similar souls, start an organization to advocate for people who have pink hair and lip rings. Get out of that bubble and realize, once and for all, that no one is alone anymore. If 30 year-old men who live with their parents can find friends, so can your kids.
2. Document. Bullies love to rant and rave. They’re infatuated with their own big mouths, so make them a star. When they get mean and nasty, your kids should grab their phones and broadcast the rants for the world to see. Nothing dangerous, though. If an assault is imminent, mace might be a better option than a camera. But most bullies rule by fear. They aren’t too tough and often back down when their victims rise up. Write about their behavior; start a blog. Someone once said, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” It is.
3. Raise a ruckus and then release the hounds. If a person has harmed your son or daughter, tell others about it. Form an army of your own.
4. But tell your kids to take a deep breath. Bullies are often young people who don’t think things through and sometimes respond emotionally to their surroundings. Don’t encourage your kids to be like them when fighting back. This is no time for anyone to go all Columbine because of hurt feelings. That only turns victims into the biggest bullies of all.
5. Fight back appropriately. Use all the tools at your disposal, including humor. Laugh with your kids at those who should know better than to mess with your family in the first place.
Take a stand and stick up for yourself and encourage the same in your kids. Spit that mouthful of ice. You just might like the taste.