Is your child being bullied at school? In a Harris Poll from February 2014, 60 percent of respondents said they or someone they know have been or are now being bullied in school. A groundbreaking new study on peer victimization among tweens and teens, published in the March 2014 issue of Pediatrics, associated bullying with worsening physical and psychological health, depression, and self-worth over time.
To prevent the lasting effects of bullying, the study emphasized the importance of early intervention. Although schools are doing more to help students, your role as a parent is crucial, and it's never too early to start having a conversation about bullying. Over the past two years, teachers and parents across the nation have used Stand Tall, a book with DVD that I developed to give educators, parents, and young kids the skills to speak up about bullying. Here are three research-based strategies outlined in the book that can help kids tackle bullying in ways that are safe and constructive.
TEACH KIDS TO ALWAYS RESPECT OTHERS
A strong sense of self-respect, combined with a basic respect for others, can help your child avoid and prevent bullying. Help your child build that strong combination by:
Playing the "I Am Someone Who...." Game. You and your child first take turns completing the sentence by focusing on fun personal traits such as "I am someone who...loves music" or "I am someone who...takes care of my little sister." Then, come up with something no one else can say, like: "I am someone who...is named after a river." This game teaches kids to value their unique traits and builds self-confidence and a positive attitude about differences.
Reading Affirmative Books. Read books with encouraging messages about difference and respect, and then discuss the themes with your child. Some great books that offer perspectives on being an outsider include: One of Us by Peggy Moss, about a new girl at elementary school who finds a diverse group of friends; Who Belongs Here? by Margy Burns Knight, about a Cambodian refugee, which teaches the message that we all come from somewhere else; and How We Are Smart by W. Nikola-Lisa, about the many ways 12 different notable people found success.
Being a Positive Role Model. Actions speak louder than words, so your child's observations of what you do are more important than what you might say. Always say "please" and "thank you" and be friendly to people of various backgrounds. "Punctuate the positive," says Jane Conoley, Ph.D., dean and professor of the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, University of California Santa Barbara, by focusing on and reinforcing affirmative behaviors.
DISCUSS WAYS TO PREVENT BULLYING
Brainstorm solutions to stop bullying before it happens or escalates. Develop and prepare a toolkit of ideas for kids to use in tough situations when it can be hard for them to think straight.
Create a List of Responses. Practice phrases your child can use to tell someone to stop bullying behavior. These should be simple and direct, but not antagonistic: "Leave me alone." "Back off." "That wasn't nice." "I'm going to tell your mother." "Don't do that."
Role-play "What If" Scenarios. Role-playing is a terrific way to build confidence and empower your child to deal with challenges. You can role-play the bully while your child practices different responses until she feels confident handling troublesome situations.
Keep an Open Line of Communication. Check in with your kids every day about how things are going at school. Use a calm, friendly tone and create a nurturing climate so he isn't afraid to tell you if something's wrong. Emphasize that his safety and well-being is important, and that he should always talk to an adult about any problems.
TAKE ACTION TO STOP THE BULLYING
Help your child learn how to make smart choices and take action when they feel hurt or see another child being bullied.
Encourage Your Child to Be an Upstander. Being an upstander (and not a passive bystander) means a child takes positive action when she sees a friend or another student being bullied. Ask your child how it feels to have someone stand up for her, and share how one person can make a difference. "When it's the kids who speak up, it's ten times more powerful than anything that we'll ever be able to do as an adult," says Walter Roberts, a professor of counselor education at Minnesota State University, Mankato and author of Working With Parents of Bullies and Victims.
Report Repeated, Severe Bullying. If your child is reluctant to report the bullying, go with him to talk to a teacher, guidance counselor, principal, or school administrator. Learn about the school's policy on bullying, document instances of bullying and keep records, and stay on top of the situation by following up with the school to see what actions are being taken. When necessary, get help from others outside of school, like a family therapist or a police officer, and take advantage of community resources that can deal with and stop bullying.