Do you have a child starting middle school this month who is worried about bullies? How can parents help their children not only deal with bullies in a safe way, but also not develop into bullies themselves?
Bullying has become a huge topic of discussion for families and schools nationwide that has expanded in recent years with the growing popularity of social media websites and smartphones — new places where bullies can target others.
Schools have cracked down on bullies and have begun to hold regular anti-bullying activities and assemblies on campuses in an effort to prevent bullying.
Parents can do the same by “bully-proofing” their kids.
Here are some tips, offered by Sandi Schwartz of Temecula, an internationally respected child development expert and parenting guru with more than 40 years of experience in the field.
Schwartz is an award-winning educator, author, parenting expert, radio show host and speaker with a master’s degree in Child Development from Columbia University. She received a Certificate of Merit from the governor of New York for her leadership, courage and commitment to children and families after 9/11 and also accepted the National Excellence in Teaching Award from ChildrenFirst, a leading company in corporate sponsored childcare.
As program director of the Child Development Centers, Schwartz received the Soaring Eagle in Leadership Award from Mt. San Jacinto College.
It helps for parents and children to understand what bulling is all about. Schwartz explained: “The bully is suffering. I know it is hard to care about a bully because their behavior is so awful. Children’s behavior is indicative of what is going on inside them. When they are older than three and their behavior is mean, not nice and they say ugly things, that anger, meanness, not caring and inability to be compassionate is because that is a suffering human being.”
It’s best for others to not get angry. “It stops giving the bully so much power,” Schwartz said.
It also doesn’t mean letting the bully off the hook, she added.
“When you see that the bully is a suffering human being who is struggling to feel power but hasn’t learned to feel power in a healthy way, that’s really sad. What comes out of that understanding is the bully needs emotional help. It also empowers the other kids to not be so afraid of a suffering spirit there. We can be compassionate, not give them a big reaction and walk on by. You can go to an authority like a teacher or a coach and say that person needs some help.”
Schwartz continued, “Bullying is born in the home. That is something people don’t want to look at. A bully is not just born that way.”
Parents must be aware of this when they discipline their children. Parents should avoid being mean and using shame when disciplining their kids, which can turn them into a bully. “That’s the way power is felt. It’s very unhealthy,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz offered five tips for parents to help “bully-proof” their kids:
- Step back and examine the dynamics in your own family. How do you handle discipline in your home? If you don’t know how to be fair and compassionate when disciplining your kids, seek help from an expert.
- Both the bully and the victim are people who feel powerless. Parents need to help their children have a sense of healthy self-empowerment. “Feeling good about ourselves is important. Feeling self-empowerment is never about feeling better than someone else, it’s feeling good about yourself and your own accomplishments.” Parents should stop comparing their children, or saying that value only comes from making a sports team or earning good grades, for instance.
- Ask your children what they think about things. Talk to them and allow them to have differing opinions. “Your kids don’t have to see everything the way you do. Show your children that what they think is valuable.”
- Schwartz noted that gold-medal winning Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps said he was teased as a child because he had long arms, a lisp and big ears, and that gymnastics dynamo Gabby Douglas is currently being teased on Facebook about her hair. So, learn from that. Parents should tell their kids they don’t have to be perfect and that everyone could be picked on for something. “Hold your head up high and have an inner conversation with yourself, find your inner wisdom and inner courage. If someone teases you, he is looking for a reaction. If you don’t react, the bully loses his power. If you react, you are fanning the flames for the bully. Say to yourself, ‘I can handle this.’ Take a deep breath and know that you can then go to a trusted adult and report it.”
- Tell your children not to fight their feelings. It’s scary to begin a new school year, attend a new school and meet new teachers and classmates. Don’t be afraid of your emotions. Encourage your kids to tell themselves, ‘I can do this.’
Amy Bentley is a local writer and regular contributor to SWRNN.