Kids have been getting teased and bullied for generations, but what has changed is that bullying is happening on a much larger scale — and the consequences are often much more tragic. Bullying used to take place almost exclusively at school. Now it may enter the home in a non-stop, malignant manner because of the technological access that kids have to each other. So we as parents have a larger task ahead. We need to teach our kids — one kid at a time — how to deal with slights and rejections, both face-to-face and online.
First, here are some things NOT to teach our kids:
1. “Ignore the bully.” This is the most heartless (although well-intentioned) advice there is. How on earth can we expect a child to ignore assaults to the soul?
2. “You are too sensitive.” Really? Way to invalidate your child’s feelings!
3. “I’ll handle it.” Hold on a minute. First, brainstorm with your child about what s/he might be able to do on their own to handle the situation. You want your child to develop feelings of competence, right?
Second, here are some skills you DO want to teach your kids:
1. You want to teach them that they are not always being slighted when they think they are. Don’t invalidate their feelings, but suggest instead that the other child may be angry at the world at large, not simply at them. Or perhaps that child is having a bad day. At the very least, this way of thinking may help your child take things less personally and feel less dejected.
2. In that same effort you may want to suggest to your child that in some sort of paradoxical fashion that they smile at that kid who is staring or glaring at them. This sounds ridiculous, right? It’s NOT. I swear by this strategy. When you smile at someone who is staring and glaring they have no choice but to get confused and their anger (or whatever other ill-begotten vibe that they had intended) has just lost its power.
3. Perhaps they need to learn a little empathy for the bully. If they understand that the bully is probably not enjoying his life this may help curtail personal feelings of dejection.
4. Remind your kids that slights and rejections follow us throughout life because there are many unhappy people lurking around the water cooler of life. This doesn’t necessarily make things easier, but it may put things into perspective.
Of course, despite your best efforts to teach your kids to deal with bullies, the behavior might continue. Be sure to check in with your kids to see if they are making any progress in their efforts to dis-empower their bullies. If they feel that despite their best efforts they are still being targeted, then it is time to move to the next step. The next step is seeking the help of the adults in their lives. Encourage them to talk to school personnel and ask them if they would like you to accompany them to meet with their school counselors. Let them know that there may be times that you will not be able to sit back and watch them get hurt. There will be times that you may have to intervene and talk to one or more of the adults in charge at their school. Do let them know, however, that you will always keep them in the loop.
About Barbara Greenberg, PhD
Barbara is a Ph.D. clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of adolescents and their well-intentioned but exhausted parents. She is the co-author of Teenage as a Second Language-A Parents Guide to Becoming Bilingual with Jennifer Powell-Lunder PsyD and the co-creator of the website http://www.talkingteenage.com.