I am Bully-Proof, What’s Your Superpower?
Written by Monique Engelbrecht – Kids Life Coach
Play Well Live Well Kids Life Studio®
What do you do when your child is the victim of bullying? Is it really that easy for them to try control their inside world- their thoughts and feelings- when their outside world consists of bullies? The answer is a simple “Yes”. Bullying is unacceptable and when children know and understand this, they can take control. However, it is important to know the difference between a bully and an offensive or ill-mannered child. It is considered bullying when the behaviour is repetitive and targeted, and there’s an imbalance of power. Sometimes parents and children mistake a rude child for a bully. Sometimes rude children do something unintentional that your child may not like, and it’s mistakenly seen as bullying. When your child does come to you with a situation, first discuss it with them to know whether it’s a distasteful event or if it’s bullying. You don’t always have to go in guns blazing ready to save the day.
Nonetheless, whether your child is being bullied or is confronted by a rude child, it can still make them feel afraid, worthless, and they may feel that something is wrong with them. It is important to speak to your child about bullying from an early age. Let them understand the signs and reasons behind it. Perhaps your child thinks that they are to blame, and they did something to deserve it. Motivate them to change that thought. Help your child understand that when other children bully, they do so because there is an unmet need in their own life, and they are struggling to communicate this effectively. It’s much easier for them to bully someone or be rude and offensive rather than manage their emotions and solve their problems- it’s the easy way out for them. If your child is being bullied in the extreme sense and they are physically bullied, targeted daily, or they are showing somatic symptoms of tummy aches every day for no reason, or perhaps your extrovert suddenly withdraws, then it can be addressed and taken further. Monitor your child’s behaviour should you suspect bullying in the extreme sense. If your child does come to you with a situation, take the time to consider whether it’s bullying or an ill-mannered child. Discuss this with your child and see what lessons they can learn from this.
Here are three things you and your child can always remember when faced with a bully or an undesirable event:
1. Say something!
Speak to a parent, teacher, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend, anyone whom they feel they can go to. This way, your child understands that they will be heard, and they won’t start bottling things up. By saying something, they are acknowledging that something is happening on the outside world and they have made the choice to not let it fester on their inside world. Often kids won’t speak up because they think it will make things worse if they tattle. If they can speak to someone they trust it will open the lines of communication.
When your child does say something about the bullying, don’t try and solve the problem. Instead, get your child talking and ask them questions like “what happened next? How did you feel? What do you think you can do next time? What do you think will happen if you do that?” This may help your child see what outcome their words and actions will have. Allow your child to feel like they are solving the problem. Avoid saying “boys will be boys” or “typical girls being catty”. Do not downplay any form of abuse, not only because situations may escalate, but because you’ll be downplaying your child’s emotions and experience which can make them feel less worthy. Don’t ignore what your child is saying.
During my matric year as Head Girl, I never felt more alone. I was most definitely not the favourite because of my duties and responsibilities, but I learned some hard lessons during that year. I used to walk home from school, and I received threats warning me to watch my back. Each day was something different, more threats, more rejection, more loss, more hurt, but it was all out of my control. I just ignored it all and carried on, and eventually things got better. I only wish I spoke more about this, so I didn’t have to feel so alone. It took me a very long time to break down the wall I had been building up. My motto that year was “Just smile and wave boys” (thanks Madagascar). Looking back, I understand that I had to ignore it because other people’s actions and choices are not in my control- that is part of my outside world. I only wish I made the choice to speak about what I was experiencing. I also wish I chose to think differently about everything that was happening so that I would feel different, and in the end be less affected by my outside world.
Netball and Rugby Tour. I will never forget this day of fooling around with the team in Bath, England. It was my happiest time during my matric year, but unfortunately also the fewest.
2. Ignore it!
Don’t ignore the situation, still speak about it so that the situation can be addressed, instead, ignore the bully. Children bully because they lack the appropriate social skills, so controlling and hurting people becomes much easier than to learn how to manage what they’re experiencing on their inside world. Usually children bully to get a reaction but if bullies see their victim get angry, this gives them satisfaction and makes them feel more powerful. Once children have the tools and skills to remain calm in the situation and understand that the bully is struggling to control their own inside world, then it makes it easier to firmly and clearly tell the bully to stop and walk way. I wonder what the bully’s reaction would be if a child turned around and asked “what’s wrong in your inside word? Can I help show you how to choose what to think and choose what to feel?”. I think the bully would just stand and stare with a blank look on his/her face. Nonetheless, if your child shows the bully that they do not care for their remarks or actions, eventually the bully will get bored trying to bother them.
It’s natural to get upset and your child may want to react by crying or retaliating. Even you as parent probably feel you could walk right up to that bully and show them a thing or two. Depending on the severity, don’t immediately storm off and demand to see the principal or parents of the bully. This is often the reaction that children dread and this could potentially add to the problem. Your child just needs to be heard and validated in that moment speaking to you. Once you have heard the whole story, and your child has offered ways of dealing with it going forward, you can guide things further.
3. Confidence is Armour!
Bullying depletes a child’s confidence but if they know that they have strengths and talents, unique traits, and a purpose, they will be able to safeguard themselves against the lies that bullies try to tell them. According to The Citizen (2014), studies show that parents spend, on average, 15 minutes conversing with their children each day. Schedule a regular time with your child to chat about their day. Show them that this time is important to you, and that their voice can be heard. Speak about your family values. Help your child understand that bullying is not something that is given respect and acceptance within the household. Children should be proud of their family values and will feel confident practicing these throughout their day with others.
Children can also learn about body language when it comes to bullying. Our body language can send messages as clear as our words do. Encourage your child to show confidence even when they may not feel it. If they remind themselves that they have the power to choose their thoughts and feelings, they know that anything the bully says or does cannot get to them. They can stand tall and use their armour to defuse the situation. Of course, sometimes this is easier said than done, but with practical tools to help build confidence it unleashes a child’s superpower.
I wish I had my armour on during the times I was bullied by my step-mother and step-brother. I used to dread those second weekend visits because I knew something would go wrong somewhere and I would allow it. Their abuse carried on and on but once I decided, as a young adult, to take control of my inside world, the outcome was invigorating! How different would things be if I had the tools to strengthen my confidence?
I will also never forget that day in Grade 2 when we came back from our lunch break and someone had put weigh-less tablets on my desk. Why would an eight-year-old even have that with him at school? Did he literally plan to take it from home to give to me so that him and his friends could have a laugh? When it was time to get dressed for school, I would often tell my mom that I was feeling sick. I did not want to go to school and feel inferior all day. I went through primary school thinking I was overweight, constantly comparing myself to my ‘skinny’ friends. Looking back at school photos I can’t believe I allowed that to get to me. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can harm me if I allow it to. I was nowhere near overweight, but I let my outside world control me. Had I known how to use my armour, change my thoughts, and control my inside world, my experience would have been completely different.
How many adults sit there today, just like me, wishing they had done this or that, wishing they knew then what they knew now? Speak to your child about bullying and what they can do to be bully-proof. They don’t have to grow up wishing things were different. They can one day look back on their lives with gratitude knowing they chose to control their inside world- they chose to put themselves first! Our Kids Life Coaching programmes at The Kids Life Studio® are aimed at coaching children to face their challenges and become part of their own solution. Children are given the practical tools and skills to safeguard themselves against the negative outside world, including bullies. There will always be bullies in life showing up in different ways. With practical tools taught now already, they will have the skill for life.
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