Teaching Your Kids To Deal With Bullies

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There are few feelings more powerless for a parent than finding your child in a bullying situation.  It is heartwrenching, for both parent and child.  And though the profile of the bullying issue has been gradually raised over the last several years, it's still a situation that often leaves parents and kids wondering what to do next.

As another tool in teaching families to cope, PACER (an advocacy organization for children with disabilities) has named next week (October 5-11) the Third Annual National Bullying Prevention Awareness Week.  They have launched a website geared for kids, with tips on what to do when dealing with a bully (Don't react.  Be with others.  Tell a grown-up.)

Interestingly, I learned of this website at the same time I was hearing some blog buzz about a workbook called Bullies To Buddies: How To Turn Your Enemies into Friends, by Izzy Kalman.  It is notable in that the advice it gives runs contrary to some of the conventional wisdom on the bullying issue, because, the author claims, that current anti-bullying initiatives aren't as effective as we've been led to believe.  In particular, he says that getting adults overly involved will often backfire:

School personnel are being required to intervene when kids quarrel.  Unfortunately, the almost always escalates hostilities.  In fact, most of the bickering and fighting that goes on between kids is actually caused unwittingly by the attempts of adults to make kids get along.  Thus, educators are being required to do the very thing that makes kids fight.

The mom in me bristles at this, a little.  I find myself wanting to protect my kids by telling them to involve a grown-up.  But, Kalman says, the best cure for bullying is to teach children to handle it themselves:

 

If you are a victim of bullying, there are two basic ways to solve your problem.  One way is  by forcing everyone in the world to stop bullying, and then you will be free of bullying.  The other way is by teaching you how to stop being a victim.

He's got a good point.

Laurin, of Laurin and Kelly Talk, has been reading the same book, in preparation for her child's first year of school.  She has changed the way she is approaching the issue:

My "just ignore her" advice now seems naive and pointless. Sometimes you can't ignore a bully or walk away. Sometimes cruelties are hissed at you while you sit in class or wait in line and have to be addressed lest your lip begin to quiver or worse, actual tears begin to fall. I have seen my baby's eyes fill and overflow asking me why this little girl was so mean to her. It is an indescribable pain. I would prefer to bandage a cut that I know will heal. Sometimes bullying wounds just don't.

I will empower my kids to speak up in their own defense this year by continuing to role-play. This approach in no way encourages the victims to bully back. Just the opposite. Kill 'em with kindness. Or humor. Or distract them. I'm training Erin to say "Oh my gosh, look! Are those the kids from High School Musical?

Melissa Fay Green of Wondertime interviewed the book's author.  In her research, she learned, compellingly, that

[School-wide anti-bullying programs] don't work — and Kalman accuses them of worse than failure. He charges antibullying programs with teaching children that they are entitled to a life in which no one upsets them, that they can't solve their own social problems, and that at the first sign of aggression they need to call an adult. As the director of an Atlanta private school confided to me: "Whole-school antibullying programs are most valuable in the reassurance they offer parents."

Kalman lays out a detailed plan for disarming bullies, by injecting humor, acting unbothered by the insults, and treating the whole thing as a game.  While it is hard to argue with the wisdom of empowering kids to change their situation, and to learn the reality that they are responsible for their responses, not every resource embraces Kalman's approach.  The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander, by Barbara Coloroso, parts ways with Kalman when it comes to involving adults.  Blogger Alenka of Child and Me explains:

Barbara Coloroso thinks parents, teachers, other kids - everyone should get involved, that the ignorance of bystanders just makes the problem worse. I love other books by this author (e.g. "Kids are worth it" in my opinion is a must on every parent's bookshelf) and her approach seems more proactive, more involved, less humiliating to me, then Izzy Kalman's policy on letting every non-hurtful offense slide. Bulling is not only between the aggressor and the victim - everyone who stays silent and ignores it is part of it too. It is important to stop denying that this problem exists.

As with most every issues, parents will ultimately have to determine their treatment of this issue based on the specific needs of their child, and the situation in question.  I suspect that most any expert in the field would agree that communication between parent and child is key.  Author Rosalind Wiseman said on the Today Show that she recommends all parents tell their children that

"I'm not sure if this will ever happen to you but it's common for people bully to each other. It's common for people to use the internet and cell phones to humiliate other people. If that happens to you, you can always come to me and we can talk about what to do about it. And you aren't weak if you ask for help. Problems like this can be too big for one person to handle all by themselves."

Shannon Lowe is a BlogHer contributing editor (Mommy/Family). She also blogs at Rocks In My Dryer and The Parenting Post.

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