Deb Toering is a Board Certified Professional Christian Counselor (BCPCC) in private practice at Trinity Family Counseling Center. In addition to working with a wide range of client populations and presenting issues, Deb is also an engaging public speaker. She has spoken in front of various groups across a range of topics including marriage, bullying, ADHD/ADD, and teen leadership.
Many of us know the pain of bullying: name-calling, verbal threats, exclusion, hitting, or malicious rumors on social media. For those who have been damaged, self-protection becomes a way of life.
Resulting depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety can lead to substance abuse and even suicide. Those who have been bullied will do anything to prevent this from happening to their children. But parents often feel powerless. Despite all the anti-bullying efforts, bullying still occurs in locker rooms and playgrounds when no one in authority is looking.
Bullying is any type of aggressive behavior with the intent to do harm. The bully wants control. Bullying often stems from an imbalance of power, thus the bully’s aggression must be met with resistance. If the bully can cause fear, anger, or frustration, then he has won; he has gained control. A response that will catch the bully “off guard” is needed.
Young children are not always capable of catching the bully “off guard”. So what can you do to protect your child? The worst thing is nothing, or minimizing what is happening. Here are some suggestions:
Examine your parenting style. Are you overprotective? Are you teaching your child to deal with the bully himself, or are you ready to intervene to “protect” him from harm? Listen, provide comfort, and impart insight and skills. Rushing in to “fix” the problem will cause your child to feel powerless and even more vulnerable.
Stay involved at school. Know your child’s friends. Observe how he interacts with others. Be vigilant about how he is using social media.
If you know your younger child is being bullied, talk to the classroom teacher. The older your child is, the less he wants you involved. Ask your child how you can help.
Seek counseling with a school counselor or other mental health professional.
Families today are under tremendous stress. Parents, what coping skills are you modeling for your children? We all need to develop resilience, or the ability to bounce back from difficult circumstances. Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg has coined the term the “7 C’s of Resilience”. These are qualities parents can help their children develop so they can be successful and confident people-people who can resist the bully! Consider how to build these 7 qualities into your child’s life:
1. CONFIDENCE: Affirm the good you see in your children with praise. Help them find and pursue their passions and interests. A boy who is not athletically inclined or who may be smaller in stature may benefit from some type of self-defense class. A child’s confidence stems from feeling competent.
2. COMPETENCE: A child who can handle a situation effectively feels competent. Limit criticism. Compliment when you notice your child doing something well. Focus on his strengths. Empower him by allowing him to make decisions and experience the consequences of those decisions.
3. CONNECTION: Develop close ties with family, friends, and community. Find others who believe in your children, love them unconditionally and will hold them to high standards. Allow your children to express their emotions. Model effective conflict resolution skills. Be intentional about cultivating the relationship.
4. CHARACTER: Kids need to develop a solid set of morals and values. Model an “others-oriented” approach to life. Affirm your children when they are sensitive and caring about others.
5. CONTRIBUTION: Knowing that you are making a contribution to the world leads to a sense of purpose. Model service to others.
6. COPING: Model positive coping strategies.
7. CONTROL: Help your child understand that things do not happen randomly but result from the choices we make. Teach and model healthy boundaries.
Healing involves talking about and grieving over the pain and losses surrounding the bullying. If forgiveness and letting go of the past do not take place, the bully continues to have a controlling presence in our lives. Anger and hurt are heavy loads to carry. Parents may need to let go of self-blame for not having protected their children. All of this may require the help of a professional counselor. You and your children are worth it.
References Ginsburg, K. (2011). Building resilience in children and teens: Giving kids roots and wings. American Academy of Pediatrics: Second Edition.