I’ll never forget the day I got the call l from the principle. He informed me that my second-grade daughter was in his office after an incident with a bully on the playground. What happened next made me rethink how I teach my kids to stand up for themselves.
Dealing With Bully Behavior
The principle explained that an older boy had confronted my daughter and a group of her friends playing handball. He stole their handball and refused to give it back. When they demanded the boy return it, he tossed it over the concrete wall into a neighbor’s yard.
My daughter was incensed because the handball was a prized item, and despite her tiny size (and possibly because she has an older brother and no fear), she knocked the boy down and started kicking him as her friends joined in. The teachers ran over and rescued the boy after four second-grade girls took down the notorious fourth-grade bully. The principle could barely contain his laughter as he explained the details, but reminded me of the school’s no-violence protocol and that my daughter was suspended for the rest of the day. As I drove over to the school to pick her up, I wasn’t sure if I should discipline my beloved girl or give her a high-five.
Certainly, violence is never the answer to a bully, so I determined in that moment to work hard on teaching my three kids to gain confidence and avoid the bully trap without overdoing it. Here are a few of the main things we’ve focused on in our home as we raise our kids.
Lesson #1: The Value of Empathy
Generally speaking, empathy is not the first response that pops into your kid’s head when dealing with a mean child, but as followers of Christ, it’s an instinct we should aspire to have. Bad behavior is always symptomatic of a deeper issue. It could be a physical, emotional or neurological problem. It could also be environmental conditioning (such as a dysfunctional home life) that leads a child to act out.
When my oldest son was a toddler, he had crazy reactions to red dye that turned him into an aggressive and hyper kid at every birthday party with pink frosting or a fruit punch Capri Sun. It took a few years of wringing our hands and a battery of allergy testing before we figured out the culprit and how to avoid it. Sometimes, the parents aren’t to blame and the kid is reacting internally to something they can’t control. On the other hand, some parents do encourage aggressive behavior with a “let them figure it out” attitude that means your kid gets pummeled while their kid runs the roost.
Regardless of the issue behind the behavior, it’s important to remember that a smile goes a long way, and kindness is always our first defense to an abrasive person. If we can teach our kids how to empathize with broken and hurting people and give allowances for some inappropriate behavior, it lessens the sting of the “meanness” factor and helps keep things in perspective. Empathy allows us to see a bigger, God-sized picture of a person who struggles. Pray with your child that God will give you both understanding and compassion to open a door into the mean kids’ hearts.
Lesson #2: Maintaining Boundaries
One thing I learned with parenting my munchkins is to be intentional and proactive regarding bullying and self-confidence. My youngest daughter experienced girl drama in kindergarten this year, so have these talks with your kids early and often. Giving them words and actions to practice before they are faced with difficult situations helps empower them when the first bully points a finger at them. Here are a few examples of what you can teach your children about boundaries:
- Walk away: Tell you kids that it’s okay to just walk away and go to a safe space if a bully is bothering them.
- Tell an adult: Let them know that they can always reach out to parents, teachers, coaches, etc. Kids must be empowered to share or they will internalize the fear and become victims.
- Be kind online: Keep an eye on your kids’ social media accounts, and let them know that troll behavior won’t be tolerated. If they are being harassed online, make sure they know they can come to you for help.
Lesson #3: True Identity
One of the biggest defenders against bullying is a confident child who doesn’t allow other people to treat them badly. Understanding who they are in Christ and their true identity as an unconditionally loved child of God helps kids to gain self-respect and self-love. Help your kids understand who they are so that they aren’t defined by others or victimized on the playground.
Lesson #4: Power In Community
Encourage your kids to talk to you and share their struggles. When kids start to isolate, they internalize pain and begin to go down a sin and shame cycle. Bullying is not something they can deal with on their own. Foster relationships with other children who are positive influences. Get your kids off the video games and outside into group sports and activities. Help them pursue both relationships and their passions while finding like-minded friends who do the same. A strong support community of friends who have each other’s back will be the best defense against a mean kid.
How do you want your children to stand up for themselves? It’s never too early (or too late) to teach your kids about the values, words and actions that allow them to protect themselves while being a kind and caring individual.
You may also be interested in Raising The Next Generation: Avoiding Entitled Kids With Good Parenting