Bullying has become a major issue for kids in America. Roughly 1 in 5 kids are bullied nationwide, and approximately 15% of those who report being bullied are cyber-bullied. From 2016 to 2019, the number of kids who reported being bullied in the 30 days prior increased over 35% and kids who reported bullying other kids nearly tripled.
In other words, bullying is a significant problem that parents today need to be able to address and help their children through.
But what is bullying? Bullying is defined as repetitive unwanted aggressive behavior intended to create a power imbalance between the victim and the bully.
Kids who are bullied are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, loneliness, loss of interest in school or extracurricular activities, decreased academic achievement, and more.
If your child is experiencing bullying on any level, here are some ways to help them:
Make sure they know they are not a victim
Although your child may be victimized, there’s a difference between embracing the mindset of a victim and embracing the mindset of a victor. When your child sees themselves as a victim, many toxic thought patterns can develop. They can start to see themselves as someone who’s beneath others and who doesn’t deserve the things others have.
Most of what we encounter as adults doesn’t depend as much on what’s happening to us as it does our mindset about what’s happening. Too many people today look at their life as something that’s happening to them rather than something they can affect change in.
Your child may absolutely be a victim to bullying, but be careful to not instill a victim mentality into their character.
Instead, we’re going to focus on the things we control and the solutions we can bring about rather than focusing on how terrible the people and situations around us are. Those are two totally and radically different ways of approaching a problem, and in the end, the difference between those approaches is what will make the difference.
Explain that hurting people hurt people
The mindset of a bully is essentially based on fear, because anger is a byproduct of fear. When someone is angry or aggressive, they’re using anger as a means of control, and they feel as if they need control because they’re afraid. Their fear could be rooted in a lot of different things, all of which stemmed from their past. What’s important is not that we dissect why a bully is mean and controlling, but to understand that whenever someone expresses characteristics of a bully, it’s always coming from their own brokenness.
Again, this does not excuse their behavior, but it does give your child some context as to why they are being targeted by someone. The important takeaway here is for them to know that they’re not inadequate and they are not the cause of their being bullied. Often when bad things happen to us we can indirectly let those things fuel insecurity in us because we think we either caused or contributed to the problem. Sometimes we are the cars and sometimes we are contributors, but for a child dealing with a bully, it’s of utmost importance they understand that they are not the reason they’re being bullied. They’re being bullied because another kid is broken on the inside which is probably caused by the brokenness of that kid’s parents or custodial guardians.
Understanding that can go a long way to developing the next point…
Teach them compassion
When a child bullies another child, what they’re looking for is to establish control and dominance. They typically feel out of control in some area of their life or they’ve experienced an insecurity that has caused them to look elsewhere for their personal strength. In the case of bullying, they’ve decided that establishing dominance of other kids is the solution to the problem. And sometimes this isn’t rooted in any kind of deep wounds or brokenness, it’s just the human condition. We all tend to do this whenever we make fun of or belittle another person. Doing so makes us feel slightly better about our own condition, and even though it’s not right, it tends to be our tendency.
So a bully is looking for dominance. Therefore, when your child engages in the back-and-forth, they are giving the bully exactly what they want. They want to feel dominance, and the way to field dominance is to experience struggle from the person they’re victimizing. When a bully doesn’t get engagement, it isn’t as satisfying.
That’s why one of the most effective and radical solutions to bullying is kindness. Parents often get uncomfortable with The idea of their child being kind to a bully because they feel they can make them weak. But the truth is, weakness and insecurity are shown more in retaliation and anger than they are in gentleness and kindness. A strong child is one with a gentle soul who will stand up for themselves but don’t need the constant affirmation of aggressive control of a situation in order to feel good about themselves.
Teach your child to love their enemies. It’s a radical concept but one that is desperately needed in our world today. It’s also important that they understand what loving your enemies is and what it isn’t. Loving your enemies means to have compassion for those who are broken and lashing out. It’s to understand the human condition and to see that all people are flawed, not just some. The person bullying your child is not your enemy. Your enemy is the brokenness that caused their aggression, and the way to overcome that brokenness is to teach your child compassion and love. Because at the end of the day, that’s the only thing that can help the situation.
There is a line between compassion and passivity, though. Which brings us to our next point…
Teach them self defense
For every situation where a child is being bullied, there’s a certain amount of grace and compassion that is due. In fact, as we discussed, anger and aggression and retaliation will do absolutely zero good as a permanent solution for bullying. Instead, kindness and compassion are the only solutions long-term. But there is a line where a child must protect their physical well-being. For example, if your child is being sexually abused by another child, then that’s a situation where actions must be taken to remove the physical threat.
In those instances, it’s helpful to give your child a pattern they can follow. For example, you might tell them that their first step when someone is physically harming them is to go to their teacher and tell them what’s going on without holding back. Then, if they’ve told their teacher and the physical harm continues, then teach them to take it to their teacher once more. If the teacher has seen on multiple occasions that bullying is happening, and they still haven’t taken measures to limit the physical harm to your child, then you must teach them how to protect themselves while you as the parent take measures to discuss the situation with their teacher. The reality is, most bullying situations fall in the Gray area where the teacher doesn’t see it happening so they can’t physically remove the bully from the situation. Sometimes, frankly, a situation has to boil over before a teacher will take notice because bullies are typically good at bullying under the radar.
So teach your child that if a bully is somehow getting away with physical harm and your child has told their teacher multiple times and you as the parent are taking measures to remedy the situation with their teacher, in the meantime, they need permission and training on how to protect themselves physically.
You don’t have to send your child to martial arts school, although going to a few classes could certainly be good for them. Instead, simply show them how to remove themselves from harmful scenarios such as in the case of sexual abuse or dangerous situations such as being choked, etc.
Of course, we don’t want our kids fighting if they can at all avoid it. One of the best ways to eliminate a threat without going into a full fledged fight is to use pressure points.
Here are some pressure points you can teach your child to use to remove themselves from physical harm.
Once self-defense techniques have been implemented, the goal is to get away from the bully, which leads to the next point…
Teach them how to diffuse a heated situation
Compassion is important and self defense is sometimes unavoidable, but there’s a middle ground where most situations fall where they can be diffused before they get to a place where self defense is necessary. Or, after self defense has been utilized, your child needs to know how to then get away from the situation.
If they’re in danger of physical harm, the obvious solution is to get away from it as quickly as possible. But running away isn’t a long term solution and can often make matters worse with a bully.
Here are some ways they can diffuse a heated situation:
#1: Make it known that they’re crossing a line
Simply tell the bully to back off. You might be surprised how effective it is to simply state out loud that what is happening is not okay. Encourage your child to say something simple like, “back off” or “that’s enough” or “I’m not joking, quit.” These statements elevate the situation in the bully’s mind and show them that your child is not their victim.
#2: Don’t lash out in anger
The one thing that fuels a bully is a reaction from their victim. If your child responds with anger, it’ll only push the bully to engage further. Send defense is something that is best done absent of rage. When rage enters a scenario, it makes it much more volatile and unpredictable. At the very least, lashing out in vengeance will only make things worse, so teach your child how to process their emotions without letting their emotions drive their decisions.
#3: Don’t cave in emotionally
Another thing bullies want is for their victim to show that they’re emotionally vulnerable. There’s a time and a place for your child to process, feel, and express emotions, but while the bully is present isn’t that time. Teach your child to be strong in the face of adversity until they reach a safe place to express their sadness. Teach them to focus their attention on being strong while someone is trying to bully them. Show them how to change their thoughts to problem solving thoughts rather than thoughts of victimization. This is not at ALL intended to teach them to stuff emotion. Quite the opposite, actually. This is teaching them how to manage what they’re feeling so they know when to give full vent to emotions and when to maintain composure.
One way to do this is to reference heroes in stories or movies that they know. Teach them that the Avengers have to face fear and be brave at times, but that they have times that they cry as well. Learning how to manage emotions is one of the most beneficial skills you can teach your child, and it will serve them tremendously as adults.