Bully-Proof Your Child: What Every Parent Needs to Know


Image credit: Stuart Miles (freedigitalphotos.com)

When some of us were growing up, bullying was considered a normal part of childhood; kids were left to sort things out themselves. Now we know that repeated bullying is damaging to a child’s psychological well-being and can have long-term effects on the brain. You probably can’t completely bully-proof your child, but I talked with Greg and Lisa Popcak on their radio program More2Life yesterday about how we can at least make our child a less appealing target for a bully.  In case you missed the show, I offered these tips:

1.  Teach your child an assertive communication style.

Bullies prey on kids who are vulnerable, so ensure your child feels confident in communicating assertively. Children develop a passive communication style when they are afraid of confrontation, have some kind of fear or anxiety about saying what they really want or need, and feel like they need to please everyone.  Teach your child that is okay to be assertive when confronted by a difficult person. This means we say what we need and that we set clear boundaries. “Don’t call me that name. Please use my real name.” “I don’t allow people to touch me.”

There is a difference between being aggressive and being assertive; teach your child the difference.  Aggressive communicators assume their opinion is the only one that matters and they tend to be intimidating.  Being assertive is different: we can be clear and firm without being dominating or loud. Make sure your child knows that it’s okay with you if he sticks up for himself when somebody is being aggressive or nasty toward him.

2.  Avoid harsh discipline approaches.

Many children become passive or submissive in response to overly harsh parenting. It’s a basic survival response. Not only will he not develop assertive communication skills, but when a child hears a lot of criticism at home or is physically punished for making mistakes, he may on some level think he deserves a bully’s poor treatment. The behavior of some parents, in fact, rises to the level of bullying and normalizes maltreatment in the minds of their children.

Choose a discipline approach that protects your connection with your child and encourages respectful communication. Even when he makes a mistake, he will know he is valuable and deserves respect. Then when a bully is violating his space or rights, he will have a deep sense that something is wrong. More empathic discipline approaches also protect your rapport with your child so that he is more likely to ask for your help in dealing with a bully.

3.  Teach your child the art of friendship.

Lonely, isolated kids are favorite victims of bullies. Teach your child from a young age how to be a good friend so that he builds up a circle of good friends. Sharing, listening, giving. These are lessons that can begin at a young age. As she matures, help your child develop perspective taking – how another child feels, or how that child’s experience may differ from your child’s.

These tips are all about teaching your child to invite mutual self-donation into her relationships which is what God wants for her. The ability to both give and receive within friendships is a powerful gift. No bully wants to mess around with that.

More for You

I’ve posted some great links about bullying over on our sister site for you:

  • bullying basics (what counts as bullying anyway?)
  • cyber-bullying (oy, there’s a whole new mean in town)
  • sibling bullying (something none of us wants to think about it, but it happens)

If you’d like to listen to my segment with the Popcak’s here you go. I come in at about 24 minutes. The Popcaks’ insights are always fantastic. In fact, the whole show was great: the topic was assertiveness training. Assertiveness is the healthiest communication style, but the fewest number of people possess it.

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