Dealing with bullies
Teasing, hitting or excluding: the bully has many ways to make a boy feel bad.
How should you respond?
- Do not add insult to injury by teasing him in order to “toughen him up”.Avoid siding with the bullies (“Maybe if you practiced more they would not tease you” or “What are you doing to bring on this behaviour?”). Your home needs to be a refuge and you need to be your child’s ally.
- Listen to and accept his feelings.Try not to respond with “It can’t be that bad” or “You shouldn’t feel that way.” How you respond to a child who tells you about teasing or bullying is important. Minimising his hurt or trying to tell him it does not matter may send the wrong message. Remember that the victim of bullying often feels disempowered and helpless. The action you take should re-empower him and help him to feel less helpless.
- Do not get drawn into the feelings of powerlessness by feeling that there is nothing you can do to help. If you are concerned about the situation discuss it with your son’s teacher or school counsellor. The culture of silence around the abuse of boys needs to be broken. In this sense parents have a role to play in exposing and confronting the abuse of boy.
- Do not just leave the situation. If you are uncomfortable with what is happening or you feel that you have been speaking to the wrong people about the situation, keep using your voice until you feel comfortable. Be clear that you send the message to your son that no one has the right to hurt him and that this kind of behaviour is not okay.
What should you tell your child to do?
- Remember that it is just as important for the bully as it is for the victim for hurtful behaviour to be exposed. We are not doing the bully any favours by sending him into the world believing that it is acceptable to treat others with a lack of respect and kindness.
It is of paramount importance that in the process of assisting your son to deal with bullying, you empower him to solve the problem himself. Brainstorm solutions with your son to make him part of the process of problem-solving rather than simply telling him what to do. Ask him how he wants to handle the situation. Some options:Ignore it
. This often works but he will need to understand that this will take time and the teasing may get worse as other kids test his resolve. It is hard to ignore teasing – you could suggest that that he counts to himself; walks away from these situations; concentrates on his breathing; or flexes and releases his muscles.
Tell them to stop.
Suggest he say something like “I do not like it when you do/say that. Please stop it.” Coach him to go for a quiet but firm approach rather than a desperate and angry stance. Teaching your son to be assertive is an important life skill.
Deflect it with humour.
It takes quick thinking but humour is often respected by other kids. However, be aware if your son adopts self-deprecating humour as a survival tactic as this will further erode his self-esteem.
Make your son aware that it is an option to report the bullying to a teacher, his tutor, housemaster, counsellor, chaplin or the principal. Encourage him to keep reporting it until action is taken. The message that he needs to hear is that it is okay to ask for help.
It is generally a bad idea to meet aggression with aggression. However, some experts advocate self-defence or martial arts classes for boys if they help him to feel more confident and safe. Research shows that if you look confident you are less likely to be victimised.