On Dealing with Bullies, Communication, when to Fight, and Asking Friends for Help

by on March 8th, 2015
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Question

My son is 6 and is in his first year at school. He is good natured, and it breaks his heart that his friends turn on him all the time. He seems to attract bullies. We have always taught our children to use words instead of fists, but it seems that many parents don’t think this way. Communicating with bullies is useless. I’m at the point of teaching my son and daughters self-defense instead. How do you teach your children to get along with others and cope with rough children who don’t know when to stop? Also, how do you deal with the parents of bullies who don’t stop such activity even when it happens right in front of them?

Answer

I wish I could just give you the silver bullet, an answer guaranteed to thwart the bully threat. Unfortunately, such a panacea does not exist. There are steps you can take, and I’ll tell you some of them. But your children live in the real world, and the world never seems to run short of jerks. They’re everywhere, and they come in all ages. You know that guy who guns his motorcycle at 5 a.m. to wake up the neighbors? And what about that woman who gets angry about a library fine and retaliates by defacing a bunch of books? Add parents who overlook the bully tendencies of their children to that group.

Avoiding such people is impossible, and communicating with them is nearly as difficult. Most of us simply learn to coexist with jerks, and unfortunately, that is what you must do as well.

As for your son, I recommend the following:

Favoring words over fists is a good thing. It is almost always wiser to avoid a fight than to put up your dukes. But if a kid hits your son and he doesn’t respond, every bully in the school will sense weakness. Even if your son doesn’t know how to fight, he cannot afford to just take a beating. Let him know that if a fight is inevitable, he should get some licks in. Sometimes that makes other bullies think twice about hassling a kid. It may also get teachers involved. And they generally know which kid is the bully. When your son tells you about the bullying, offer comfort and support, and try not to show too much of your own anger or frustration. Recruit the help of an older sibling, cousin, or friend who can talk about how they survived their own brushes with bullies. Children tormented by bullies often believe the problems will never end. And too often, they have trouble believing assurances from parents. If you know the parents of the bully, talk to them before bringing a third party into the fray. If you don’t know them, start by talking to your child’s teacher or school counselor. Once the school knows about the bullying, teachers and other educators may be able to help by keeping an eye on the situation. Explain to your son that the problem is the bully, not him. Many kids feel embarrassed about being bullied. Let your son know that if he has a problem with bullies, you want to hear about it. Talk to your son about how to react to bullying. Teach the boy not to react by crying or becoming visibly upset. When kids show frustration or start shedding tears, the bully knows he has won and will gleefully repeat the process. Encourage your son to use the buddy system. If he has any reliable friends, suggest that he hang around with them during the school days. Children who play alone make easier targets. Enroll your son in team sports or Cub Scouts or a club that will help him meet other boys in a friendlier environment. Sports, scouting, and other group activities can help build confidence. And if a boy makes friends with the kids on his baseball team, those kids might come to his aid at school. Some other resources including self-defense classes, as well as books on bullying, either for you or your son.

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