When our child is suffering from bullying, we suffer too. We hate to see our children being constantly picked on and tormented.
Our instinct is to charge in and fight their battles for them. We want to take on the children targeting them or their parents, or demand that the school make this aggression stop. Or we might tell our child to be tough and beat this kid down.
Sometimes (some of) these actions help, but often they make the situation worse. It has become dangerous for adults to threaten or attack children that are being mean to their own. Some parents have been arrested and even sent to prison. The school may try to make the aggressive students stop, but this, too, can make the situation worse. The other child will probably deny what they are accused of and argue that the situation is really your child’s fault. Their parents are also likely to take their side against you and your child. The school will be placed in the difficult position of judge, and there is no guarantee they will decide in your child’s favor. Meanwhile, the accused aggressor will get even more mad at your child for getting them in trouble. They may want revenge, so they might begin actions that are even worse. Another downside is that your child learns nothing about navigating difficult situations. They learn to be dependent upon others to fight their battles for them.
If you tell your child to beat up the kid that picked on them, they may not have the courage to do so. And if they do, they could get in trouble or badly beaten. Furthermore, most social aggression is verbal. Do you think that your child is justified to punch someone in the face in response to an insult?
So, what should you do? Ask yourself, “What do I want for my children? Do I want them to need others to protect them from rude people, or do I want them to develop the skills to deal with rude people on their own?” Chances are you want the second. Your children are going to encounter toxic people throughout their lives, so the sooner they begin learning, the better their lives will be.
Most people believe that kids can’t handle bullying on their own because the kids targeting them are too strong. Fortunately, this is not true. The solution to bullying has nothing to do with strength. The solution is knowledge. When we understand what’s really going on when people verbally attack us and the simple solution, we become empowered. The aggression stops naturally, and the average seven-year-old can learn how to manage his own social problems.
You should not blame the school for socially aggressive kids or hold them accountable for making those kids change. If the solution to your child’s misery requires other people to change, then your child does not really have a solution.
There are children who are not capable of learning how to navigate tough social situations on their own. This may be because of intellectual impairments or psychiatric conditions that prevent them from understanding the solution or to control their own impulses enough to follow the instructions. These kids deserve to be protected from other kids. When we approach the children who mistreat them, we should do so without anger. We, or school authorities, should talk to them lovingly, the way we would want our children to be treated if they were being accused of mistreating others. We should provide an explanation something like, “Our child is getting really upset because they don’t know what to do when you are mean to them. They are afraid to go to school. I would really appreciate it if you were nice to my child instead of making fun of them or pushing them around. Thanks so much!” Then they are more likely to want to stop being mean.
Now, about teaching your child how to handle social aggression on their own: your child needs to know that when he or she gets upset, they get the opposite reaction of what they want. They are trying to make the negative behavior stop, but when they get upset, the kids picking on them don’t want to stop. On the contrary—getting upset makes them want to continue. When your child gets upset, the other kid has defeated them. So, your child needs to learn that the way to win is by refusing to get upset. This may seem easier said than done. But it really isn’t all that hard. The solution is to apply the Golden Rule, which instructs us to be nice to people even if it doesn’t seem they deserve it. It’s hard to continue being mean to people when they are nice to us.
The most effective way to teach children how to navigate social aggression is through role playing. Here is a simple way to do it. Ask your child to insult you. Then respond with anger, making it clear you don’t like it and want them to stop. You will probably discover that they have a great time and continue insulting you. Then start over. This time, be nice to your child and make it clear they can insult you all they want, that it won’t bother you. Your child will probably get bored quickly and stop. Explain to your child that when you were trying to stop them, you were actually doing the opposite: making them continue. The second time, when you were letting them insult you, you were actually encouraging them to stop. Then explain that other kids aren’t picking on them because something is wrong with them, but because they enjoy seeing your child get upset.
You can teach your child how to become resilient using the Golden Rule so that they don’t have to be weighed down by the effects of rude or negative people, not only now, but for the rest of their lives.