Worried your child might be being bullied? Here are my 9 practical tips on how to bully proof your child:
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Here’s how to bully-proof your child and support their mental health and emotional well-being.
Often parents of easy-going children are particularly worried whether their child can stand their ground if faced with teasing or aggressive behaviour from other children.
Joan loves her child’s laid-back and gentle nature, but she’s worried because he gives in when other kids demand their way.
He lets them take the toy he was playing with.
He lets them dictate what game they play.
Will he end up being bullied if he doesn’t know how to stand up for himself?
“How do I bully-proof my child?” she asks. “I’ve noticed little incidents recently, where other kids take advantage of him.“
The good news is that these upsets are a great opportunity to help your child to learn assertive behaviour, which is essential if you want to bully-proof your child.
You might also find What To Do If Your Child is Being Bullied or is a Bully useful
9 Practical Tips On How to Bully-Proof Your Child
#1. DON’T RESCUE your child – CHAMPION your child
One of the dangers of jumping into the situation and speaking up for your child is that you are rescuing your child. When you repeatedly rescue you are likely to create a victim mentality in your child. You may be giving your child the message that he can’t stand up for himself, so you could be reinforcing a helpless mindset and passive behaviour.
Of course, there is a time, especially when there is a major difference in power – such as when a much older or bigger child, or an adult, is bullying – where it is essential to step in.
When you champion your child, rather than rescuing him, you help your child to feel confident and able to respond to the challenges of life.
#2. Keep calm – only intervene if essential – and observe
Note what’s unfolding in the incident:
What was happening before the upset?
Who said what?
What was the tone and strength of each child’s voice?
What was the body language of those involved?
What was said?
Was there any negotiation?
How developed were your child’s language skills in holding his own?
How was the situation resolved? Or not?
What happened then?
Now imagine what your child could have done differently that could have created a different outcome.
If there are a series of similar incidents, try to notice patterns of behaviour. Notice whether incidents like this happen at a particular time? For example, when your child is hungry or tired? Dealing with underlying issues can make a big difference to your child’s ability to respond adequately to socially awkward interactions.
For more on understanding children’s behaviour see my book, “BEHAVE – What To Do When Your Child Won’t”.
#3. Be aware of your child’s temperament – and your own
A child with a calmer temperament might choose to handle a situation differently to you. That doesn’t make it “wrong”. When we understand our child’s temperament, and our own, we’ll better understand what’s needed. Watch my six-part YouTube series that explains your child’s unique temperament.
A laid back-child is likely to always be laid back. So it’s not about trying to change your child from being someone he isn’t, but rather – what are the two or three degrees change that would create a more helpful outcome?
You might also enjoy reading 6 Insights Every Parent Needs To Raise an Independent Child
#4. Imagine what your child’s assertive behaviour might look like
Imagine your child handling that situation in a different way.
How might she stand up for what she needs, without moving into aggressive behaviour? Now think about the social skills you want to help her to develop to handle similar situations.
If you think this through before discussing the situation with your child you will have a greater sense of what might be helpful.
For more about this see my blog: How to Support Your Bullied Child
#5. Talk about the incident with your child
Create a calm, safe space to chat about the incident. Make sure you are centred, so that you are not in a reactive place.
If your child is upset about the incident, or becomes upset, focus on soothing your child because he’s unable to think clearly or creatively to find a solution until he’s calm.
You might also enjoy reading 7 Valuable Insights on How to Calm Anxiety in Your Child
#6. Use role-play to help your child discover how to handle situations differently
It’s amazing how body language, posture and tone of voice can affect the likelihood of a child being bullied, or not.
I remember one sweet little girl in my early education centre who was unhappy because other children were not respecting her space.
“Leave me alone” she’d say, but she sounded so timid the children ignored her needs.
I spent time with her role-playing; she moved from a little squeaky-mouse voice to using her ‘”big teacher voice” to say what she needed, without being aggressive.
The children responded to her when she was assertive.
#7. Use storytelling or toys to explore and develop bully-proof behaviour
Children can be inspired by your, “When I was little …” stories, if you share ways in which you handled a challenging situation.
Acting out a situation with toys can also be a helpful strategy with young children. Or use your imagination to create stories about animals, where some of the animals act in “not okay” ways – and where the hero learns to say what they need, yet still act in a kind way.
You can even get the animal to ask your child, ”What could I do now?” It’s easier to objectively problem-solve someone else’s story – and children can transfer that learning to their own situation.
#8. Consider contact sport for your child
This can be a helpful strategy with older children. Some parents report that when their child took up a physical contact sport, like judo, the child developed a much more confident approach and stature.
This change meant that children who had tended to bully now left the child alone.
#9. Reflect on your parenting style
Helping your child to learn to be assertive might also mean taking a long hard look at your own parenting. If you encourage your child to be compliant, even if it’s through reward for that behaviour, he doesn’t learn how to establish his own boundaries. This passive behaviour will increase the likelihood of the child being bullied.
For instance, a child doesn’t want to share his toy with a younger sibling, perhaps the parent says,
“Oh, be a good boy, share with your brother.”
When you repeatedly do this, you give the message to the child that it’s not okay for him to protest, to hold his own boundaries, to say “No!”
If he can learn to use other tactics, like distracting the toddler to another toy, or moving his toy to somewhere the toddler can’t reach, you help him develop a sense of how to hold his own boundaries in an assertive way – respecting his own needs and remaining pleasant.
You might also enjoy reading 5 Practical Tips To Help Overcome Anxiety in Kids
Bullying Incidents Can Be a Learning Opportunity
Upsetting incidents, like the one described by this parent, can be a gift.
It’s a chance to figure out how to help your child to be a pleasant and assertive person, who knows how to take care of himself, whilst being respectful of others.
In fact, this is core to emotional well-being and mental health.
Over to you now. Which of these strategies resonate with you? What else works for you to bully-proof your child? Please share your stories in the comments below because it inspires other parents to take find solutions on how to bully-proof their children.