Bullying: Can you 'bullyproof' your child?
There's no magic way to ensure bullying will never happen to your children but there are a few things you can do to at least help prevent it and reduce its impact a little if they end up on the receiving end. Think of it as 'bullyproofing' your child.
Recognise that bullying is incredibly common and look out for the signs so that you can help
Almost 70% of children report they've been bullied at some stage. If your child is on the receiving end it could be for all sorts of reasons, or none. It's unlikely to be their fault or yours.
Bullying advice & support
For more information on what to look out for see anti-bullying charity, BeatBullying's website.
Make a positive effort to help your child relate to others if they struggle with this
There are positive ways to gently help children fit in better. Encouraging generally popular hobbies and interests - be it football or Moshi Monsters won't hurt. This doesn't mean squashing a square peg into a round hole and forcing, say, a quiet non-sporty, studious type go to football class, but trying to find something they're interested in which others are too.
Encourage your child to build a 'cool' skill
Taking this a step further, kids who struggle socially sometimes find they're accepted more if they have a special skill others find 'cool'. Perhaps it shouldn't be this way but in reality if it makes life more comfortable why not?
This might be easier said than done and you'll have to identify an activity your child actually wants to do but ideas Joel Haber mentions in his book, Bullyproof Your Child, include being able to make friendship bracelets, juggling and telling (good) jokes.
Watch out for any ways in which you might be hampering them from fitting in with their peers (within reason)
Encouraging individuality and not compromising your own parenting principles too much are important but we also need to watch out for ways in which we're needlessly creating barriers between our children and their peers.
The classic example is not having a TV at home (or nowadays a gaming console). If other kids at school are making references to popular TV programmes or have been watching the football and are discussing the match, a child with no TV will be excluded from these conversation.
Of course it's one thing to let your child watch the X Factor so they can fit in, but quite another to go further and let them do something you truly disapprove of. Only you can decide what the right balance is for your family between helping them be part of the crowd and compromising your beliefs, but do consider the social benefits as well as any downsides.
Encourage them to make like Catherine Tate with an 'am I bovvered' reaction' to any teasing
Bullies love to see their target looking upset by what they say or do – it's like throwing fuel on their fire. More sensitive children who burst into tears easily are a bully's dream.
Joel Haber's advice is to "explain to your child that bullies may pick on anyone, but sometimes the reactions from the target (reacting calmly, looking confident and strong) make it less likely for bullies to get the "fun" they want. Other reactions such as anger or drama may make bullying more likely."
Of course for a genuinely upset child, it can be hard to hide their true feelings but the more they can make out they really aren't bothered, the better. Help them understand that if they can manage it, walking away and maybe just saying firmly 'I don't agree' preferable to showing they're upset.
If it appeals, you can even role play – this can allow children to try out different ways to react to teasing or bullying and could also encourage them to open up to you about what's been going on.
You might need to point out that not reacting to a bully does not mean ignoring the bullying itself and not doing anything about it – make it clear that they can still tell a teacher/ you.
Build confidence and resilience
Clearly some people are more naturally confident than others but if you can help your child to show an outward confidence, they should be less likely to fall victim to bullies.
Some children who are vulnerable to bullying benefit hugely from learning a martial art. Not so much so they can threaten to karate chop any bullies but to provide a more subtle 'don't mess with me' aura and a general self-esteem boost.
Look for friendships outside of their class
If your child is being teased or finding it hard to make friends at school, helping them do this with other groups should provide a confidence which might well feed back into their class too. If they are the kind of kid who doesn't have much in common with many others their age, an
appropriate after-school or weekend club for one of their hobbies might be a source of kindred spirits.
If they are bullied or teased about the same thing(s) on a regular basis, work out a clever retort or two
BeatBullying suggest this as a strategy. A favourite retort to being called a geek is 'well so is Bill Gates and he's doing okay'! A smart, humorous or firm statement could shut the bully/ bullies up.
BeatBullying has some helpful resources for parents, schools and children.
Liat Hughes Joshi is author of Raising Children: The Primary Years.