An adult bully? It happens, but how can kids stand up for themselves?

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Before my son was born, I swore that I would instill in him the values that I believed to be important. Values such as kindness, empathy, integrity, altruism, respect, and the appreciation of a dance break-down. I told myself that I would teach him the importance of friendship and how to be nice to others regardless of their differences. So far, he is doing fairly well. I have to cut him some slack as he is 6, which entitles him to lack in certain areas such as modesty and honesty, but I must admit that he is a pretty thoughtful guy. This provides hope that he will not fall into the bully trap.

Up until roughly 15 years ago bullying was considered a rite of passage, something that helped kids “toughen up”. Then we experienced a series of horrific events that caused us to look deeper into the effects of ostracism and bullying. Now we have the anti-bully movement. This colossal push to end bullying has given youth the tools they need to advocate for themselves or for others in need of support. It’s given these kids websites such as www.standforthesilent.org, www.thebullyproject.com , and www.promoteprevent.org to help them connect to others who understand what they are going through. This is what these websites say to do if a child is being bullied: (stopbullying.gov)

  • Look at the kid bullying you and tell him or her to stop in a calm, clear voice. You can also try to laugh it off. This works best if joking is easy for you. It could catch the kid bullying you off guard.
  • If speaking up seems too hard or not safe, walk away and stay away. Don’t fight back. Find an adult to stop the bullying on the spot.
  • Talk to an adult you trust. Don’t keep your feelings inside. Telling someone can help you feel less alone. They can help you make a plan to stop the bullying.
  • Stay away from places where bullying happens.
  • Stay near adults and other kids. Most bullying happens when adults aren’t around.

What I am not seeing is what do kids do when an adult is the one who is the bully.

We teach our kids at an early age to be respectful of their elders, and as adults or parents we vow to lead by example. Unfortunately both sides are subject to failure, however, when adults fail to uphold that promise, kids are profoundly impacted. An example of such a failure can be seen on a practice field or during a game. Coaches, berating and shaming their players in hopes of gaining better performance is so ass-backward, but a method used that is right up there with verbal and physical abuse. So how do we teach our kids to stand up for themselves, in a respectful way, to an adult who may be picking on them? Can a child tell his teacher to stop, or laugh at her when being picked on? I would actually love to see that, but I’m pretty sure it equals a fast pass to the principal’s office. Can a child walk away from her coach or will that get her thrown off the team? Will a kid trust a parent or another adult enough to talk about the issue considering that it’s his/her word against an adult’s word?

Thinking of my son being picked on makes my blood boil. I want to run to his side, throw him in a child-sized Baby Bjorn, and run off to a place where he can’t be hurt. Unfortunately that’s not an option, so I am left to try the following:

  1. Emphasize the importance of honesty.
  2. Keep an open dialogue about what happens at school.
  3. Let him know that adults are fallible and give examples of when I have failed.
  4. Attach a wire to his chest to pick up all conversations within 6 feet of him.
  5. Help him identify an adult at school he feels comfortable talking to if he needs help.
  6. Reinforce the value of acceptance so he realizes that everyone is important regardless of age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, etc.
  7. Practice the concept of killing them with kindness. I could do the same…

Again, because there isn’t a whole lot of information available to help kids understand what to do if confronted with an adult bully. I don’t have advice or guidelines that are based on research or backed by a child psychologist. This is what I would do if my son faced this situation. It’s a touchy situation, but worthy of attention. If you have thoughts or suggestions, please start a discussion. You never know who could use the help.

image credit: blahblah4

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