There are many things to do before the first school bell rings.  Across the nation, students, parents, and teachers are preparing to head back to school once again.  One of the most concerning issues at this time of year is shared among students and their parents – the issue of bullying.

What is bullying?

Bullying can be defined many ways and the definition varies by state and depending on where you search the definition.  It’s truly become an abstract word that can cover a multitude of behaviors.  For the sake of this article, we will define bullying, according to the purest psychological definition.  Bullying is an imbalance of power in which the aggressor attempts to cause subjective harm by doing something that hurts the target’s feelings.  More information can be found in my article “What is Bullying?”.

How common is bullying?

Research shows us that 1 in 6 students (that’s 160,000) skip school every day for fear of being bullied.  In teens, 75% are cyber-bullied.

What advice should parents give kids about bullying?

Telling your kids to “fight back” or saying responses like “knock it off”, “stop it”, or “that hurts” my feelings may seem like good advice but it isn’t.  This only tells the aggressor that their tactic to hurt your child’s feelings is working.  It’s rewarding the negative behavior with what they want.  Instead, equip your child with phrases that make them sound emotionally strong, like “Sorry you hate me.  I hope you have a good day” or “You can make fun of me if you want to.  It doesn’t hurt my feelings”.

No “bully” wants to make fun of someone that doesn’t get upset.  It only makes them look foolish.  When they realize that they cannot dominate the child, they will stop trying to hurt their feelings.  It may get worse before it gets better, but eventually the aggressor will move onto someone else..

A student should fight back if they are being physically attacked and need to defend them self.  It’s often challenging for kids to understand what a parent means when they simply say “fight back”.  Properly explain what is appropriate so that you child can remain safe but doesn’t end up committing a crime, such as assault and battery.

What are the different types of bullying?

  • Verbal Insults
  • Physical Provocation
  • Rude Humor
  • Social Exclusion
  • Criticism
  • Rumors
  • Fear/Intimidation

What can parents do to stop bullying?

As a parent, the best thing that you can do to help your child when they are hurting is to equip them with social and emotional skills.  Simply telling them to report the problem won’t solve it.  It leaves them feeling powerless.  Rehearsing with them HOW to respond, however, empowers them to be part of the solution.  Rather than waiting for another person, program, or policy to try and stop it, they can often shut their enemy down and build their emotional resilience in the process.

Check out this free training video where I teach you my international award-winning approach to empower targets of bullying.  Additionally, you may want to purchase my parent training and a special program called “Raise Them Strong” which I’ve put together with fellow bullying experts/social skills educators Brooks Gibbs and Chris Scheufele.

Finally, communicate with your child’s school.  Schools often don’t have the best resources or the latest research hen it comes to bullying prevention.  Let them know about this website and the free training offered here.  They will thank you!

What can schools do to stop bullying?

The best thing that schools can do to prevent bullying is to train students, staff, and parents how to respond to simple conflicts.  Complex ‘bullying” issues, like the ones you see on the evening news almost always start as simple social squabbles that grow and get out of hand.  Schools that are pro-active have prevention programming in place to teach social and emotional learning skills and resilience education.  By increasing the socio-emotional skills of each student and creating a supportive campus where adults coach students how to solve social problems, students learn how to manage issues alongside caring adults.

Schools should steer clear of anti-bullying message with zero-tolerance policies.  Zero-tolerance policies and traditional anti-bullying methodology is proven to make social aggression worse (see this for more information).  In fact, the U.S. Department of Education shares that this common response is unhelpful and damaging.

Schools should also be aware that programs which simply teach bystanders (to become upstanders) and offer kindness as the sole solution, are not very helpful.  Expecting other people to always intervene isn’t effective.  Only 10% of people will say something.  Kindness campaigns, while an important message, are often naive in the fact that they rarely teach conflict resolution skills.  It is true that we must teach our children to be kind but we must also teach them how to respond to unkind behavior.  It is inevitable that our kids, will at some point, face it.

To learn more about a psychological approach to the bullying problem based on research and best practices, click here.