Anger sometimes gets the best of me, especially when I see kids picking on other kids. You might describe my middle and high school years as the antithesis of fun. When I should have been enjoying my youth, I was terrorized daily by boys who were bigger and stronger than me. After a while, I got tired of the constant bullying and began to lift weights. By my junior year, no one picked on me anymore because I pledged to not take anything from them, not to mention I gained forty pounds of muscle.
But, this isn’t an option for all kids. Bullying takes many forms today, from cyber-bullying to sexual assault. So, how do we help children to combat the various bullies they encounter now?
1. Build confidence – One of the things that kept me in the submissive posture I learned to develop for so many years was a lack of confidence in myself. Many kids who are bullied are simply small and shy. They might be the youngest in their class or just genetically disadvantaged by height and weight. This leads to the larger, more aggressive children feeling like they can take advantage of the smaller, weaker ones. But, with confidence and self-value, the smaller child can put a stop to bullying. But, how does a small, shy child build confidence? A great deal of this comes from a home life where parents are caring, engaging, and listen to their children. If the child doesn’t feel like home is a safe place and somewhere he or she can be fully themselves, they will feel hopeless, as if they don’t belong anywhere. Children need that haven and fortress from which to launch their identity. If parents can provide this kind of place, it can make all the difference.
2. Build abilities – Part of building confidence is based in what talents the child has. Every person has something they are good at. Sometimes, these talents aren’t discovered until later, but if you can uncover them early and begin to develop them, your child has a much better chance of seeing himself as a success. My talent early on was music. I was always too small to play sports, but I could sing and play instruments very well. Not only did my parents recognize this and support the development of this talent, my teachers did the same. Even when I was being hit or spit upon by bullies, I still knew I had worth and value in my talent. It got me through some very painful times.
3. Build an escape – Sometimes kids who are bullied get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time too often. For instance, at my school, there was an area between and behind two buildings that was a perfect place for bullies to hide and pop out of to attack unsuspecting kids. I learned quickly to avoid this place, but found that there were other areas around school (under the bleachers, in the bathroom, etc.) where bullies would prey on smaller kids. Some of these places such as the bathroom, were unavoidable. But staying away from others was easy to do. Also, if you did get trapped, you needed to have a way out. But, ultimately you needed people (teachers, parents, schoolmates) who you could trust to have your back in potentially rough situations. Having an escape and knowing what and where to avoid are extremely important points for getting past bullies. This includes staying away from bullies online as well as in person. If a bully is making threats, report it to an adult. If a bully is terrorizing you online, block them or get rid of them any way you can. Don’t let yourself be hurt any longer.
While this doesn’t answer every problem kids face from bullies and other violence, I hope it will add to the conversation about bullying. No one, no matter what age or race or preference, should be threatened or harmed. I hope that many children can avoid the hurt and shame I endured for so much of my childhood and learn to be confident, compassionate, and strong children and adults. I wish you well…