As sure as kids will go back to school each Fall in the U.S., bullying will be encountered in the classroom each school year. In these early days of August and September classes, would-be bullies are getting a feel for who they think might be an easy mark in the class. As the days wear on and a bully confirms that he or she can pick on specific classmates without their standing up for themselves, the bullying escalates.
Assertive responses are particularly effective in countering bullying because the child who masters this type of direct, emotionally-honest communication demonstrates that a bully’s attacks will be answered in a fair, but formidable way. Finding the initial target to be too powerful to provoke, the bully will most often move on.
Showing strength does not mean flexing muscles or challenging a bully to arm wrestle. Rather, teach kids to show their inner strength by speaking with a confident, even voice and standing an appropriate distance from the bully (not in their face, not shrinking back). Also, encourage your child to look a bully directly in the eye. Making eye contact is one of the best ways that young people can demonstrate strength to a bully.
A bully’s main strategy is to make a victim feel alone and powerless. The best way for a child to counter a bully’s strategy is to tell a helpful adult about what is going on and ask for that adult’s support. When a bully realizes that he will not be able to keep a victim isolated—that the victim is strong enough to reach out and connect with others—the bully begins to lose power.
Sometimes adults fail to acknowledge the seriousness of bullying, but more often, grown-ups are not aware of what is going on. These days, intimidators often use non-classroom time, including the internet, to bully their peers. It is a kid’s job to bring these behind-the-scenes methods to light and to create awareness in adults about bullying.
Many kids worry that they will be called a “tattletale” if they tell an adult what is going on. Guess what? That is exactly what the bully wants his/her target to think! The bully is hoping to make a victim feel all alone and powerless. When kids tell an adult about what is happening and get their support, they re-gain their voice!
If your child has tried to manage a bullying situation on his own but has been unsuccessful in stopping the bullying, reassure him that telling an adult is the next step and the most powerful thing he can do.
In the heat of an encounter with a bully, it can be very challenging for a young person to respond effectively. When kids learn and practice assertive phrases for standing up to bullies, they become well-equipped to handle incidents of conflict and bullying with their peers.
In Friendship & Other Weapons, kids learn and practice using Bully Bans: short, to-the-point, assertive phrases that let others know that they will not participate in their bullying, nor will they be bullied. Some examples of Bully Bans include:
• “Friends don’t treat each other that way.”
• “Not cool!”
• “Knock it off.”
• “Cut it out.”
• “Stop it.”
• “I don’t want to be treated that way.”
• “I like the way I look.”
• “That was not funny.”
• “I can take a joke, but what you said was not funny—it was mean.”
• “Friends don’t do that to friends.”
• “That’s bullying.”
The important thing to remember about assertive phrases is that they do not put down or attack the bully, which is never a good idea. Likewise, Bully Bans are not effective when said through tears or a whining voice. Bully Bans are simply brief, assertive statements used to stand up to bullies and stop bullying behavior.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they are up against a bully is to ignore repeated bullying and hope that the problem will go away. While bullying usually begins in a relatively mild form—name calling, teasing, or minor physical aggression—it often becomes more serious when the bully realizes that his victim is not going to STANd up for himself. The longer a bully has power over a victim, the stronger the hold becomes. Taking action against the bully—and taking it sooner rather than later—is the best way to gain and retain power.
Signe Whitson, LSW is a national educator on bullying and author of Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young People Cope with Bullying. This article features excerpts from Friendship & Other Weapons. For workshop inquiries or additional tips on how to bullyproof your kids, please visit www.signewhitson.com, Follow Signe on Twitter @SigneWhitson and Like her on Facebook.