Over the past few years, I’ve spoken to many educators, parents and kids who’ve had to learn this very difficult lesson: We cannot change the behavior of others. We can only choose how to respond to it, and how we respond to it reveals our character.
The rules set in place in our schools can help handle the more easily definable issues—like physical attacks—but it's often difficult to stop children from using intimidation or verbal abuse to bully their classmates. That kind of change begins at home, and both the school and the parents have to work together, if they hope to address it.
In the meantime, the parent of the bullied child has the daunting task of helping their offspring develop the skills necessary to get through it, with their self-esteem intact.
When my son was dealing with bullying behavior in his previous school, I made a list of ways to build his confidence, help him maintain his self-esteem, avoid revenge mentality and make bullying become less powerful over his happiness and wellbeing.
This is the list of things my husband and I made when my kids were in elementary school, and they were very successful for us. Take what you like, add your own, and delete what doesn’t work for you.
Maintain a positive home environment.
It’s important that bullying doesn’t become the family's only focus. Children need to know that there is joy and hope in life. When our kids come home, we have a routine of shaking off the problems of the day, at least for a while. Something as simple as a fun snack or can help a kid leave their worries behind and understand that the larger portion of their day is good. I’ve created a pie chart art project, which helps put it all in perspective. Go for more details.
Encourage them to confide in you.
It’s really difficult to maintain objectivity when a child tells you they’ve been mistreated. But it’s important to react well. The first thing I do is calmly repeat back to them what I'm hearing. If they say, “He hates me, and he’s so mean!” I say, “OK, he isn’t treating you well. It really hurts your feelings, and it’s not fair.”
My kids always calm down—at least a little—at that point because they can see that I’m listening to them and taking them seriously. I always make a point never to give the impression that I think it’s no big deal, nor do I encourage anger. Also, I often remind my kids that "getting back" at someone will never bring a positive result, and could potentially ruin their future.
I simply let them know I understand what they are feeling and will help them through it, in whatever way necessary. When they know you’re listening without judgment, they're more likely to confide in you next time.
Teach them the difference between bullying and someone simply being rude or thoughtless.
Let’s face it. Kids are not always so nice. Adults aren’t always so great either, but there’s a difference between someone carelessly hurting your feelings, and being the target of bullying.
Learning how to let a few things roll off one’s back is a part of life, and I don’t want my kids to think that everyone in their future is going to treat them fairly or be sensitive to their feelings. It’s just not true. Sometimes you just have to shrug it off, move on, and—yes—even forgive them.
Go for some red flags to watch for when it comes to figuring out if a child is being bullied.
Arrange for extracurricular activities that involve kids with common interests.
Make sure to encourage play dates and sign up for with kids from their school, as well as kids in neighboring towns. It’s important that they see many opportunities to build friendships.
Give them a strong life focus.
We spend endless hours imagining the future at my house. Without a destination in mind, it’s impossible to make a plan to get there. I do an exercise in my workshops called that helps kids realize that today is temporary and it will get better.
I will never forget the day that my son came home and showed me that he'd selected the campus of Princeton as his screensaver. When the bullying problem started, he didn't even want to go to elementary school. He had something real to look forward to.
Help them create a happy bubble.
By helping my kids choose to be happy, it made them feel empowered. I do an exercise called the Happy Bubble that teaches children to create a circle with their arms and fill it with memories where they felt confident. I remind them that nothing can pop the bubble because it’s filled with memories and nobody can take those away.
I knew it was working when my son got off the bus and said, “Mom, bullies just don’t know what to do when you’re happy!”
Taryn Grimes-Herbert is the author of the "I've Got" interactive book series for children. Calling upon her professional acting experience on Broadway, film and television, she is a public speaker and takes her books into classrooms hoping to help kids build character, develop empathy and learn to communicate respect through creative dramatics activities. For more information, visit http://www.ivegotbooks.net.