Dr Richard C. Woolfson
When a child is bullied, his self-confidence dips, so he’ll find it hard to beat the bully in this frame of mind. The first step in helping to turn things around is to make your child realise that you take him seriously. Remember that it takes a great deal of courage for him to admit that he is being bullied – he may be worried that you’ll think he’s making a big fuss about nothing.
Don’t assume that bullying always involves physical attack. Bullying can take many different forms – verbal attacks, racial harassment, cruel teasing.
There are many ways in which your child can stand up to bullies. But the one method you should never teach is that he should physically fight back. Here’s why:
+ You can never be sure of the bully’s physical potential. Sure, you can teach your child how to swing a punch, or how to wrestle, but you don’t know if the bully is even more skilled – in which case, your child could end up severely beaten.
+ There’s always the danger that an adult or teacher walking by will mistakenly perceive your child to be the aggressor and not the defender. Then he’ll have to explain why he “attacked” one of his peers.
+ There is no guarantee that a momentary overpowering of the bully will stop his tormenting – he could return later with a crowd of his own friends.
There are far more effective ways for your child to be assertive:
1. Walk away. Persuade him to walk away whenever the bully appears to be moving in his direction. “He who walks away lives to fight another day.” Too often, this type of avoidance-strategy is mistakenly construed by the victim as an act of cowardice when it is, in fact, quite sensible. But when he does move out of the line of fire, he should do this slowly, without running.
2. Minimal response. Encourage your child to show as little reaction as possible to the bully’s threats. It’s an old cliché, but the truth is that teasing and bullying often stop eventually when the victim shows indifference. Ignoring verbal and physical threats is difficult, but it can be done – practise this with him at home through role play, if possible.
3. Stick with friends. Tell him to spend as much time as possible in the company of other children. This especially applies to free-play situations either in the school playground or outdoors after school. Bullies pick on children who seem solitary and isolated, so a child standing alone in the school playground is identified as a potential target.
4. Positive body language. Your child probably looks afraid, because he anticipates the bully’s attack. Teach him how to look more assertive and confident – walking with his shoulders held back, his back upright and his eyes looking directly in front of him, not towards the ground. He should also try to look relaxed.
Your child doesn’t have to cope on his own. If bullying occurs in school, talk to his teachers, though do insist that they act discreetly without specifically mentioning your child’s name.
If you already know the bully’s parent well, you could consider having a confidential chat with them about their child’s behaviour.