As adults, we need to step up to the plate to protect children from bullies. Bullying is a form of child abuse.
We need to be better role models in teaching children to treat each other with dignity and respect.
When we hear a child speak about being bullied, we must support and empower the child. We must take the power away from bullies. While schools play a role in enforcing discipline and maintaining a “no bullying” atmosphere, we cannot abdicate all responsibility to them.
We must serve as what Alice Miller calls an enlightened or helping witness for the child.
First, we must hold bullies accountable. Bullies tend not to care that they hurt people. I think many bullies enjoy the fact they’ve hurt someone. It makes a coward feel powerful.
We can no longer stick our heads in the sand and expect bullies to become empathetic or understanding without firm intervention. We need to stop minimizing the problem and pretending it will go away if the bullied kids just ignore the abuse.
Second, we need to give good kids our permission to be assertive and to stand up for themselves. Bullied kids are frequently the nice, sensitive, well-behaved kids ~ the ones who make their parents proud. While their strength of character is a good thing, it also sets them up as targets for bullies. We need to install in our children a GPS system so that they can navigate life ~ including the storms ~ successfully:
- Protect yourself: speak out, speak up, report the bullying to a responsible adult. 50% of the time, a bully will back down when confronted.
- Use a strong, forceful, firm, loud voice: “Stop. I will not allow you to treat me this way.”
- Reinforce your words with body language: look the bully in the eyes, stand tall, convey inner strength with facial expressions.
- Change your attitude: decide you won’t be a victim.
- Deflect the bullying with humor: crack a joke to cut the tension. Tyler Perry, Steve Martin, and Chevy Chase have all had very successful comedy careers because they adopted humor as their armour against abuse.
- Rely on the peer pressure of your friends: abuse happens because good people do nothing. Silence condones bullying. Good friends protect each other. By banding together, friends can teach the bully how to be a better person.
Teaching kids assertiveness skills, however, isn’t enough if gangs have taken over the school. Parents and school administrators (and probably the police) need to form a partnership to transform the toxic environment into one in which all kids can surive, thrive, and find joy.