Outsmarting A Bully

It’s time for school to begin again and with recent reports of suicide among children overwhelmed by bullies, parents are rightly concerned about what can be done to prevent a bully from getting into their child’s head. Parents should start early fortifying their children against pressures that will surely come.


Resisting the temptation to intervene directly when a bully threatens will be the hardest task on your to-do list. It is too easy to become the bully yourself and use your superior size and experience to put down a bully’s challenge directly. This might bring a temporary solution but it will also serve to weaken your child’s sense of strength and likely insure that they will soon be at the mercy of a future incident.


Even a visit to the principal early on could serve to place your child at greater risk. Your child needs to know how to face a challenge on the playground when no one is looking. There is certainly a time to notify school officials and even law enforcement but there are solutions that could be effective before that level of bullying is allowed to take shape.


Dr. Charles Fay at Love and Logic Parenting suggests a two-pronged strategy to help your child cope with a bully. The first move involves listening to your child and empathizing with his situation. She doesn’t need a one-sentence quick solution; she needs to have her heart understood by a caring adult responsible for her well-being. Feel free to tell her you would feel awful if someone said something like that to you.


A child who has a listening ear is less likely to feel alone in a downward spiral. Taking the second step will also insure that your child will never feel alone. Dr. Fay says parents should empower their child with the belief that he can cope. Asking the question, “What are some things you can do when something like that happens?” helps your child understand that you believe in his ability to solve this problem using his own strength and skills.


Teaching your child that some bullies can be distracted with humor or the confidence they see in your child will solve many of the battles on the first day of school before they escalate into something worse. Dr. Fay cautions that parents should intervene only when bullying is so severe that a child’s ability to cope physically or emotionally is overwhelmed. Stepping in too soon can empower the bully instead of empowering your child.


Look for signs of trouble and open the conversation as early as you can so that you can head off a growing problem before it develops into something big. Ask good questions like, “Tell me something you enjoyed today at school,” or “What was your biggest challenge today?” rather than the proverbial, “How was school today?” Ask a specific question each day and change the question to get a wider range of thoughts and feelings from your child. Probe when you suspect that someone is getting into you child’s head about their clothing, their actions or some physical characteristic that seems to be worth criticizing.


Listening and empowering your child with the belief that he can solve his own problems works with a lot of issues. Strengthen your child with confidence and a listening ear so that they will always come to you when something happens that shouldn’t.

Dr. Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.