I have been sadly surprised at the volume of calls I get from children who are being bullied with gossip.
It commonly starts with a child’s telling a “friend” something very personal, and that friend tells others who tell others, and before you know it, everybody is giggling about whatever it is.
There also are kids who like to pick on others to feel superior, usually picking on a child who is not very assertive. Other kids, filled with envy about grades, looks, or possessions, take out their jealousy by trying to destroy that child’s reputation.
And there are youngsters who are unhappy at home (because of neglect or some form of abuse or chaos with divorces, remarriage, and so forth) and they take their frustrations out on other kids.
Whatever the motivation, it hurts. It hurts you as the parent to see your child come home from school upset about schoolyard politics. It hurts your child, who feels trapped and helpless.
In my day, if you approached the other kid’s parents and told them that their child was hurting yours, the other parents would apologize and call their kid on the carpet.
Today, I rarely recommend doing that because parents tend to become hostile. That hostility further motivates the errant child, who feels “backed up” by defensive parents.
I often suggest, as a first response, for the child to just shrug it off and maybe get occupied with another activity. If that doesn’t work, we have to try other things.
For example: Have your child invite the annoying kid to your home for lunch, a game, or a movie. Befriending someone who is emotionally collapsed might just turn him or her into one of your child’s biggest supporters and protectors!
If that doesn’t work, teach your child to be more assertive. Those skills will be important for the rest of his or her life. Teach your child to speak up when the bully approaches — by describing out loud (without name-calling or insults) what is happening:
“You are going to call me bad names and try to make me feel bad? OK . . . go ahead . . . I’m paying attention.” When this is said in a loud voice so others can hear, it will provide the type of attention the bully doesn’t want — making him or her feel awfully stupid.
If the bully gets physical, I believe that your child should know how to handle it. Some kick boxing lessons are good cardio and core training and invaluable in a situation where your child has to protect himself or someone else.
Ultimately, parents will have to teach children about the reality of bad people and that sometimes they will be at the receiving end of bad behavior and they will have to learn to deal with it.
You may want to tell stories from your childhood or work environment to illustrate that it can happen to anyone. Reinforce that just because somebody is out to get you doesn’t make you worth less — it makes that person a creep.
Remind children that many other kids at school aren’t doing anything unpleasant to them. Perhaps they should spend more time with the good guys rather than worrying about the few bad guys.
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