Targets need coaching on how to stand taller, raise their chin level and maintaining eye contact when talking with others. Have them practice this in a mirror and with you (holding eye contact for 8 seconds is a good goal). Fearful, anxious people take short strides, so help your child lengthen her gait by two to four inches, depending on height.
Targets tend to look fearful and anxious. Help them smile more, which shows confidence, but it needs to be the right kind of smile. Have your child say “Cheese whiz,” then hold it. This creates a smaller and appropriate smile that doesn’t look “weird” to others.
Introduce your child to “power posing.” Have him stand in front of a mirror with a confident look on his face and with his hands on his hips in an assertive but not aggressive manner. Studies show that power posing for just two minutes increases the chemicals in our body associated with confidence and self-assurance.
If all of this feels “weird” to your child, he’s right. He’s pretending to be more confident, and he needs to understand the value of “faking it till you make it.” Sometimes we have to pretend to be someone we’re not naturally in order to escape bad situations and to grow into a healthier life.
Many targets are isolated, sometimes having no close friends. Help them cultivate friendships by asking others questions about their lives, remembering birthdays, and sharing toys or games, among other behaviors. Help these children make friends through shared interests, such as hobbies, music, sports and so on.
Parents/guardians of targets: Document, document, document what you believe could be bullying. This doesn’t mean that you should act right away—something your child really fears and is one reason why targets don’t tell their parents because they worry they will make it worse. Ensure your child that together you will make the right decision to tell the school or not. But part of the right decision is documenting as best you can what really happened. If it’s not bullying, it will go away. But if it is bullying, you will be able to give the school the best information possible.
Put on your reporter’s hat and just get the facts: What, when, where, and how. Take special care with the “why,” because if it’s bullying, your child will likely have been drawn into the incident from a well-laid plan. You may never know the “why,” and fortunately, you don’t need to in order to establish bullying. Whenever possible, get collaborative testimony, which will help support your child’s innocence since bullies are very good at stretching the truth.
Help children avoid the “Theater of Bullying” by avoiding bullying hotspots if possible, such as certain bathrooms, certain locker banks, certain parts of the cafeteria and so on. I helped a 4th grader named Caleb avoid this theater. He was being pushed off a 4-foot concrete wall around lunchtime by older boys just outside the cafeteria.
“Caleb,” I said, “Do you need to be by the wall at that time?”
“No,” he said, “I just like hanging out there.”
“Caleb,” I said, “Don’t go by the wall at that time.”
I checked in with him two weeks later. The bullying ended. It’s not always that simple, but sometimes it is.
Be supportive. Children need to know that this is not their fault. Show compassion without smothering. And parents if you need to, cry later, away from your child who might view your tears as a sign of hopelessness. Your child needs hope and a steady source of strength from you and from God. Pray about this problem with your child.
Show an abundance of love and tolerance, even when your child shows inappropriate anger, common for targets. Remind your child daily how valuable he is to you and show him by focusing on his accomplishments (no matter how little or big). Talk everyday about what he does well (math, sports, reading, kindness to others, big heart, empathy), and spend quality time with him or her. This will reinforce your child’s value and deflate what the bullies are saying.
Help him find comfort and strength in God’s word, read Philippians 4:13 (NLT); I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
Some students are what we call “provocative targets.” They behave in a way that doesn’t justify the bullying but at the same time helps us understand why some classmates would find them irritating. For example, I worked with a young lady who was being bullied by a group of other girls in part because she was in a very bad habit of correcting their spoken grammar in class. Sasha was painting a target on her back, and with the help of her teacher we were able to erase much of it.
If you suspect that your child is a provocative target, make an appointment with her teacher(s) and ask if your child is doing anything to provoke classmates. Then—and this is very important—don’t argue. Listen. Accept with grace if possible because you are about to receive the gift of objectivity, which is essential. Write down examples if you need to then help your child stop this behavior.
Help for Children Who Bully
Unfortunately, children identified as serial bullies are resistant to change and correction. Appealing to concepts such as peace, love and understanding are not as effective as many wish. Still, there are things you can do to help your child recognize the dignity, value and worth in others and to treat others they way they want to be treated.
If you want to create a future bully who as an adult is more likely to commit crime, abuse her spouse and future children, let her dominate other children and provide little if any appropriate boundaries or punishment. Don’t correct them when they demean another person either face to face or behind their back. Let them be cruel to their siblings and allow them to justify it by saying that they were just “joking around.”
Children who bully sometimes come from homes where parents express regular arrogance, pride, and who are coercive. If this is you, repent and apologize to your child and explain that you have also demeaned others, including your child, and you now see that this is wrong and together you will chart a more loving course through life. They also come from permissive parenting styles, where they are allowed to unleash an ever-increasing campaign of cruelty toward siblings and parents. Bullies tend to come from homes with lack of male supervision as well.
Develop empathy. With supervision, have your child hold a baby or puppy, which encourages feelings of protection in others. Then during these times, talk to your child about how valuable both are and how this value is found in all people, including the people in their school who are being bullied. Ask your child how they would feel if someone bullied him or her the way they are bullying others. Sometimes showing them videos of children being bullied helps them see what they are doing to others.
Cultivate humility, which doesn’t mean that your child should think he or she is worthless, but means that we bolster the worth in others. Bullies are often charismatic. Explain that this is a gift that is meant to bless others—not harm them.
Remind them that pride often precedes personal difficulty, even destruction. Point out examples how their prideful orientation toward others, especially the weak, harms relationships and makes us less human and loving.
Children who bully often say, “I’m just having fun.” Remind them that it’s only funny when both people are laughing. Enlighten them by explaining that if it’s all about fun, then why don’t they treat the more popular and powerful kids in class that way? This will go a long way to revealing that such a child is targeting some and avoiding others, and how it’s not about fun but domination and control.
Though children who bully can be hard to reform, they are re-formable. Remember Brittany who admitted she enjoyed bullying’s power and control? She eventually came to her senses, the way most kids who bully do. “That kind of power was a version of making someone else get hurt. Two days ago, a boy who doesn’t have too many friends came in the front door [of the school] from recess, and a kid book-checked him. That means he slammed the boy’s books on the ground. In front of everyone. Lots of people laughed. I went to pick up his books for him and asked if he was okay. I didn’t know one of the teachers was watching, but the next day she came up to me and said I did a really good thing.”
After one assembly at a Christian school in California where I encouraged bullies to apologize to their targets, one bully did—in front of his entire class! With the approval of his parents, we gave him a Protectors Courage Award in front of the student body during a special assembly. “It was one of those moments” wrote the boy’s teacher, “that I will remember for a very long time.” Require your child to give the target Vitamin A, an apology, which is good for your child and the other child.
Given the covert, strategic and sometimes sinister nature of serial bullying, there is only so much some targets can do to escape such intentional torment. Many need bystanders to become what we call “Alongside Standers.” These are students who actively oppose bullying. And it’s easier than most think. One study shows that if only one student (he doesn’t have to be popular or large in size) uses assertive but non-violent language such as, “Stop it,” or “Leave him alone,” the incident of bullying can end 58% of the time and within 6-8 seconds.
But such students need anti-bullying training and preparation through an effective anti-bullying program. And more so, they need their parents to expect them to do the right thing even when afraid, which is a blue-collar definition of courage, the virtue that underpins all other virtues, and that in the Bible is highly synonymous with inner strength. Parents: if we want strong children with powerful character and faith, then we must also help them forge greater moral courage through the portal of bullying prevention. This is why a Parent Night training is essential to any anti-bullying effort. In my opinion it’s the most important benefit a school can offer its families.
For this reason and more, parents far more than teachers, are the front-line defense against bullying. To truly combat bullying, parents must expect their child to stop being passive bystanders and become courageous and righteous alongside standers. Until then, bullying will remain the leading form of child abuse and the main reason why children are bringing guns to school and murdering classmates—most of whom never bullied them.
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