Sadly, the majority of the world's youth are exposed to bullying in some way. According to U.S. Department of Education, between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 U.S. students are bullied, with the most common occurrence of bullying happening in middle school. While not every student is bullied, a whopping 70 percent of students have witnessed bullying. Whether or not they're the target, bullying can create a stressful and unhealthy learning environment for students of all ages. Here are tips for parents and kids to understand bullying — and how to stop it.
what bullying is
In order to handle bullying, you and your child must first know what it is. Bullying is intentional and repeated aggressive behavior in any form of cyber, physical, social-exclusion, and verbal situations. Bantering is not bullying. If the "victim" finds the bully's actions funny, it is not by definition bullying. While the results of being bullied and being a bully can include depression and even suicide, the good news is that there are many ways your child can learn to defend himself against bullying.
parents: talk about it
Make sure your child understands what bullying is. "Teach them how to understand the differences, similarities, and importance of the bully, the bystander, and the victim," says Carrie A. Plourde, NCC, LPC, licensed PK-3 educator and school counselor. With this knowledge, your child will be better equipped to deal with a bully situation whether they are the victim or someone else is.
kids: walk with friends
A bully is less likely to single out someone from a group. Instead, they are looking for someone alone that is an easy target. Stick with friends as much as possible when walking the halls or walking home.
parents: know the rules
As a parent, you can become empowered and help your child once you understand the laws and regulations pertaining to bullying, as well as your child's school's stance on bullying and their procedures for dealing with it, says Nissa Rinaldi, LPC.
kids: ignore a bully
According to Jim Bisenius, a child and adolescent therapist who has worked with over 300 targeted kids in the last 22 years, the best reaction you can have in a bullying situation is not reacting. Even the best of comebacks will fall on deaf ears to a bully — or worse, escalate the situation. The best thing to do is to pretend you can't see or hear their words and actions. Talking back, no matter what they say or do, is feeding the bully the reaction they want. Nissa Rinaldi, LPC agrees, adding "Consider it like a gumball machine. If the machine is empty (aka lack of emotional reaction from the victim), there's eventually no satisfaction to return again."
Communication about bullying between parents and children should be open, easy, and comfortable. Do not force it. Trust that your child will come to you or another adult when they need to.
kids: use the right body language
Physical fear reactions are what bullies feed off of, but there are ways to keep yourself from using a fear reaction. Therapist Jim Bisenius says the goal is to look as calm as possible. Keep your head up, your eyes averted and focused slightly higher than eye level on something in the distance, relax your shoulders down, breath deeply (even a small yawn would help by signaling boredom), and hold your arms loosely at your sides with your fingers of each hand together and curled slightly. If your chin or lips are trembling, push your tongue to the roof of your mouth behind your front teeth and keep your mouth loosely shut.
When children do come to you, the single most important thing to do is to listen. Give them your full attention and make eye contact, too. "It's important to show children that they are being heard by summarizing what they're saying and reflecting back what they have said without including the parent's own opinion. After creating the safe space, then a parent can ask the child if they are looking for help, advice, or just someone to listen," says Nissa Rinaldi, LPC.
It may sound silly, but you want your body language to seem natural in a bullying situation. The best way to do this is to practice it until it does become your natural response. Practice it in front of a mirror, in front of a friend, or in front of your parents until it becomes second nature.
parents: give your child control
Let your child have the final say in handling a bully. According to therapist Jim Bisenius, "Communication can be greatly improved between parent and child by the parent promising (and then really following through) to let their son or daughter stay in control of what happens after they share bullying information."
kids: keep a distance
Don't avoid entering a room or walking a certain way because a bully is lurking. Instead, walk by them at more than arms length away so they can't reach you.
parents: don't change your mind
If you do promise children that you will let them decide how to handle bullying, don't change your mind if you don't like what the path they choose. "If the student retains 'veto' power over any response the parent suggests, it will prevent the parent from taking over and accidentally making things worse," explains therapist Jim Bisenius. "This unfortunately happens most of the time. Then the kid doesn't trust them anymore and says everything is fine while they are now really suffering with no parent support in silence."
kids: slow your speed
Don't walk past a bully quickly — slow your pace to about half your normal speed and scuff your feet slightly. A bully will expect you to run or pick up your pace around them. Slowing down takes away their motivation to bully, while scuffing your feet makes you look relaxed.
parents: avoid the urge to rescue
"Rescuing is very temporary," therapist Jim Bisenius says. "The bullying child simply drops below all adult radars and retaliates. Then the child lies to their parents and says, "Everything is fine," while thinking, "please never help me again."
kids: never give a bully anything
If a bully wants something from you, the worst thing you can do is give it to them. According to therapist Jim Bisenius, the bully will just ask for more. The same goes with being overly nice and inviting the bully places. That is a form of showing fear — your actions are saying, "I'm so scared of you, I'm going to bribe you with things and invitations to prevent you from being mean to me." Just don't do it.
parents: empower instead of rescue
Instead of ignoring your child's wishes and trying to rescue them, the best way you can help your child is to empower them with productive communication and conflict resolution strategies, says school counselor Carrie A. Plourde, NCC.
kids: be a positive bystander
If you aren't the victim, but do witness a bullying incident, you can still make a stand and have a positive impact on the victim. "Try talking to the person you witness being bullied," Nissa Rinaldi, LPC says. "For example, if the situation is unsafe during the bullying, make sure to check in with the victim after the fact and see how they're doing."
parents: encourage kids to connect with friends
A large social circle drastically decreases the chance for bullying to occur. There is power in numbers, and if bullying does occur, having one friend who has your back no matter what makes the greatest impact. A large social circle also means if bullying occurs the chances of a bystander (friend or acquaintance) stepping in are greater as well. According to StopBullying, a website from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that offers resources on bullying prevention, over half the time when a friend or bystander steps in the bullying stops within 10 seconds.
parents: model kindness
Your kids are watching you and your social behaviors. They model their behavior after what they are seeing, so make sure you are always a model of kindness to others and not a bully yourself. Make sure that you also treat them with kindness and compassion so they learn to treat others that way.