Help! My Child is Being Bullied
By Paul Coughlin
In the previous article titled “A Faith-Based Response to Adolescent Bullying,” I ended by asking readers to email me their questions about bullying. Even I was surprised by the number of fathers, mothers, and grandparents who asked for help with bullying, which in some cases has lasted for years and without resolution.
One worried mother wrote:
This article came at the right time for me. When I picked up my 10-year-old son from school last night, he was crying. I asked him what happened. He said that he was teased because he is short. He said he went to the teacher but nothing was done.
I empathized that it is never fun to be teased and that I knew how he felt. I also explained that a lot of times bullies feel bad about themselves, and that's why they tease.
How can I help my son in the future? What can I tell him to say or do? Should I call the teacher and talk to him about this issue?
This mother took one of the most important steps a parent can take: listen with empathy. Many times, kids, especially boys, feel great shame when bullied. As a result, it’s very hard for them to talk about it and, in the process, get some of the pain out of them and move toward a solution.
She also commits a common error. She tried to explain to a 10-year-old why bullies bully, which probably went right over his head. This is rarely helpful to such a young kid. Many Christian parents spend too much time trying to figure out the motives of bullies and not enough time figuring out how to build appropriate boundaries.
I told this mother that her son should begin learning the life-changing skill of verbal self-defense. Bullies rarely back down until the target shows force. So the target needs to use verbal force but without returning an insult for an insult, or being vengeful, which is a sin. As I explained previously, self-defense is not the same as revenge. Chances are, unless he verbally confronts the bully, it will most likely continue.
One of the best lines her son can use against a bully like hers is "Whatever." It's dismissive and at the same time does not express contempt or disdain. And since he is smaller, he should learn how to walk with confidence but without looking arrogant. For most kids, this means standing up straight, shoulders back, and holding their chin level. It means looking other kids in the eye and when they look away, to look up, not down.
And yes, tell the teacher, but even more important, document the event and others before it. This way she can provide the teacher with facts instead of emotional appeals, which are understandable but not very helpful to the teacher or administrator.
Another Christian mother, exuding the best of intentions, said she told her daughter to tell the bully how badly she made her feel. The result? “The bully made even more fun of her.” Telling a bully how his behavior makes you feel usually gives him or her more material and power to use against your child. Again, help your child learn how to verbally, and if necessary physically, defend himself.
Contrary to Hollywood lore, having a heart-to-heart with a bully rarely reforms the bully. It rarely works with the bully’s parents either. Most parents of bullies deny wrongdoing, which is insulting to parents already in turmoil. As one father wrote, “I talked to the bully’s mother and she told me that perhaps it was my daughter who was doing all the bullying and was trying to get her daughter in trouble.” The verbal bullying, the most common among girls, is so bad that his Christian daughter is now on anti-anxiety medication.
Our mission at The Protectors, a non-profit ministry, is to help children experience God’s love, mercy, and justice in a tangible way by helping them escape the theater of bullying . Email us your questions and consider partnering with us. Consider joining our Protectors Prayer Rescue Group. This is where people across the country pray for children who are currently being bullied. If you would like your child’s name added to this list, just give us his first name, the kind of bullying, and the state in which he lives. For other ways to partner with us, go to www.theprotectors.org.
This article is the second in a series of articles that explains just how prevalent and damaging adolescent bullying is to children, and what an appropriate response is from the faith-based community.
Paul Coughlin is the Founder of The Protectors, the faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides anti-bullying curriculum to Sunday Schools and related organizations such as Awana. He is an international conference speaker, high school varsity coach, talk show host, and author. His books include No More Christian Nice Guy, Married But Not Engaged, and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps.
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