Stopping bullying before it starts!
There is a great deal that we as parents can do to lessen the likelihood of our teenager being bullied. Confident young people are more likely to stand up for themselves if they are bullied. Building confidence will help your children feel good about themselves and can promote the development of skills to deal with difficult situations Confidence grows when a child is praised regularly. Remember an ounce of praise is worth a ton of criticism.
It is important to be patient with your children and praise them generously for achievements in different areas of their lives. Parents, who communicate with their children on an ongoing basis, will find that they are more likely to discuss difficulties as they arise. There are a few basics that you can put in place, such as ensuring that your son or daughter has basic information on the facts of life so that they do not find themselves ill-prepared for the normal changes of puberty. Appropriate social behaviour should be taught, e.g. good table manners and personal hygiene.
Self-image and physical appearance are very important in adolescence. Teenagers often don’t want to appear different from the group and generally want to have the ‘in look’ which is popular at the time. This may mean that you come under unreasonable pressure to buy expensive brand name clothes and shoes. Without succumbing to this pressure, it should still be possible to allow your child a choice within the budget you can afford.
Very shy teenagers
You can help your child develop social skills. Teach your child that being respectful to people does not mean being submissive. Young people can be taught the basic forms of politeness and small talk. They may need to practise basic greetings in order to open a conversation, e.g., “Hi, do you mind if I sit here? What did you watch on TV last night?” If your son/ daughter is particularly shy, encourage them to watch how other children join in and help them to practise on a one-to-one basis before approaching the group.
A more withdrawn child may need to choose one friendly student to approach first. Children sometimes believe that the established friendships around them are fixed, and closed off to new members, when in reality this may not be the case.
Encourage your child to speak clearly and in a relaxed way about subjects which interest them. Discourage mumbling or speaking so quietly that they are constantly being asked to repeat themselves. It may be helpful to practise reading aloud from a book or newspaper, and record the voice. Habits which should be discouraged include: interrupting, being noisy or shrill, showing off, being a know-all, and not listening to others.
Let them know that it is good to have friends in more than one area of their lives, for instance in their neighbourhood, and in hobby or sports groups, so that if things go wrong in one area, they will have other friends. Hobbies or interest groups, music lessons, dance classes, swimming clubs, self-defence or other one-to-one activities, can pave the way for involvement in wider group activities such as team sports, parties or discos. For quieter children, fan club membership or having a pen-pal, provides an opportunity for one-to-one communication.
Being assertive means standing up for yourself without being aggressive or apologetic. When it is practised at an early stage before a situation has deteriorated into bullying, it may serve to prevent bullying altogether.
Most bullying begins with some form of verbal comment or aggression, usually name-calling or jeering. A number of techniques can be used either alone or together, which can help a young person deal with difficulties. Practising the following strategies will help young people to use them convincingly. As a parent however, you should be realistic about what your child is capable of doing in a bullying situation. Try to develop confidence by selecting a technique that is manageable and suitable to their capabilities and personality. Emphasise also, that if they find these techniques are not working for them, they should seek additional help from a parent or teacher.
Some assertiveness techniques you can teach your children
Using brief “I” statements is an effective way to challenge bullying, provided it is used convincingly and with good eye contact.
‘I don’t like your attitude’
‘I don’t have to put up with you doing this’
‘I want you to stop hassling me’
‘I don’t interfere with you so please leave me alone’.
Here is an example:
‘I don’t like you calling me names every time I pass by you in the corridor. It annoys me’. Allow time for the other person to respond. You may get an immediate apology because the person involved may not fully realise how hurtful their behaviour has been. If a positive reaction does not emerge, continue with: ‘I want the name-calling to stop. If it happens again, I will report it’.
The following points are important to being firm and assertive :
Know what you want to say
Say it, concisely and clearly
Be specific and keep to the point
Look the person in the eye
Keep calm and relaxed
Don’t laugh nervously
Be persistent but don’t whine
If your teenager is being pressured to engage in bullying or other anti-social behaviour, you may need to help them practise saying “No” assertively. Be polite but firm and clear, e.g., “No, I don’t want to do that” or “No, I am not getting involved in that”. This skill is very necessary when faced with a variety of situations including being offered drugs, drink or unwanted sexual activity.
Broken record means using the same statement over and over again to reinforce a point in a situation where you they feel under pressure to do something you don’t want to do e.g. bullying another person. They simply repeat a statement such as:
‘I don’t want to do this’ or
‘I don’t agree with this’ or
‘I refuse to be involved here’.
Encourage them to speak politely but firmly. The advantage of this method is that the young person is not making an apology or excuse and does not have to think of clever things to say.
Fogging is making a neutral comment which conveys the message that the young person has not been bothered by what has been said. For example if the bully makes a nasty personal comment, a fogging response like ‘So What!’ or Whatever!’ or ‘I’m not bothered!’ might be effective.
If someone responds to a taunt by laughing it off as a first response, it is a sign that the young person can take things in their stride and the bully may give up because they’re not getting the negative reaction that they want. Here are a few examples of clever retorts that can be used in a bullying situation.
While it is difficult not to take hurtful comments on board, parents can remind their teenagers that a bully who sets out to deliberately hurt and annoy them will be put off if it doesn’t appear to be working and they’re not getting the desired reaction.
The Essential Parents Guide to the Secondary School Years - available from Primary ABC
The Cool School Programme