In a recent article we talked about the work our co-founder and Speech Therapy Director, Mandy Alvarez, does to educate parents, teachers and administrators about the difference between social conflict and bullying. Borrowing from the ideas of Signe Whitson, Mandy highlights the importance of carefully evaluating situations involving social conflict before labeling them as bullying. Here, we’ll talk about true bullying. When true bullying happens it’s important for teachers and administrators to be involved, but there are steps parents can take to deal with it and, more importantly, help prevent it from happening in the first place.

Bullying Defined

Bullying is when a child is repeatedly aggressive, on purpose, towards another child who is viewed as “weaker”. While Mandy stresses the importance of not treating all social conflict as bullying, she acknowledges that true bullying is a serious issue that can have detrimental effects on both the child being bullied and the one doing the bullying.

Why Do Children Bully?

Here are some reasons children may exhibit bullying behavior:

  • Lacking lack self-esteem and seeking attention and validation through bullying behavior.
  • Wanting to stand out and feel important, powerful, or popular; targeting kids they think they can overpower—those who are perceived as “different,” get upset easily, or have trouble standing up for themselves.
  • Demonstrating a learned behavior, stemming from growing up in an environment where anger, shouting, and other aggressive behavior is common.
  • Copying peers, or reacting to having been bullied themselves.
  • Lacking understanding or care for others’ feelings and needed help with perspective-taking, and reading and interpreting non-verbal language.
  • For children with sensory challenges, their behavior can be misinterpreted as bullying.

What Can Parents Do to Prevent their Children from Bullying?

Mandy stresses that the number one thing parents can do to prevent their children from bullying behavior is to model how to treat others with respect. We can ask ourselves these questions:

  • Do I talk to my partner and others close to me with respect?
  • When my kids see me arguing with someone, do they see me escalate to shouting and name calling? Do they see me work it out?
  • Do I disparage or make fun of people we come into contact with in our day-to-day, like when I am angry at another driver or annoyed by a supermarket worker?

None of us is perfect, but our kids look to us for guidance in every way. If we want them to avoid bullying behavior, they need to see us doing our best to treat others with kindness and resolve conflicts in respectful ways.

What Can Parents Do to Prevent their Children from Being Bullied?

Just as we need to model how to treat others with respect, we also need to model how to deal with people who are aggressive towards us. If someone picks on us or behaves in a rude or mean way, we can show our kids how to stand up for ourselves and get away from the situation before it escalates.

Mandy encourages parents to teach their kids the following strategies for dealing with children who exhibit bullying behaviors:

  • Stop bullying behavior from happening by steering clear of the aggressor. As much as possible, avoid kids who behave unkindly. If you see them, go in another direction. Don’t give them a chance to bother you.
  • If you can’t avoid the aggressor, don’t give him or her the reaction he or she wants. Kids who exhibit bullying behavior feel powerful if they know they succeeded at hurting your feelings. If you have a run-in with an aggressor, do your best to not react. Don’t show your feelings or hit, kick, push or say mean things back. Either ignore them, or say a simple, “Stop it!” in your bravest voice and get away as quickly as possible. Find a safe place or adult and then if you feel like being upset, go for it.
  • Even if you don’t feel confident, fake it. When you feel afraid, you probably don’t feel very confident. But sometimes just pretending you’re brave is enough to stop someone from bullying you. Straightening your back and holding your head high is powerful nonverbal language that tells a potential aggressor that they will not get a reaction out of you.
  • Work on feeling confident for real. Pretending to feel confident might get you out of some tricky situations, but actually feeling confident will make you less of a target. Think about all the things you can do to feel healthy, well-groomed, and successful, and work towards those goals.
  • Get a buddy and be a buddy. There is strength in numbers. If you are being taunted at recess, plan to hang out with a friend during that time. If one of your friends is having trouble, do the same for them. If you see someone being treated unkindly, tell the aggressor to stop and tell an adult.

Our Relationship with Our Child is Key

Mandy emphasizes that having a strong, loving bond with our kids is the best way to help them through any challenge. One way to nurture this bond is by establishing a bedtime talk routine. Each night before bed, when neither you nor your child is distracted, lie down with them and ask about the day—both the good and challenging things that happened. Listening to your child and engaging in calm, non-judgmental conversation will encourage them to open up to you, and create space for you to praise their positive actions and collaborate about challenges and solutions.

For more information or to inquire about Mandy presenting her Social Conflict Curriculum at your school, please give us a call!