“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is a myth that needs to be dispelled. Bullying is viewed as one of the most serious public health problems in our school systems. The effects can cause immense stress and may result in serious mental health issues for children. Caring, committed adults using research-based strategies can turn this terrible trend around. Here are tips from my new book, End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy: The Proven 6Rs of Bullying Prevention That Create Inclusive, Safe and Caring Schools (Free Spirit Pub, 2018) educators and parents can use to stop bullying and create the schools our children deserve.
1.Be on the same page. Go to your school’s website or handbook and review the rules on bullying with your kids. Ask them to teach you the bullying prevention skills they’re learning at school, for example, what to do when they see somebody being bullied. If the school has a speaker about bullying, try to be there and then discuss at home what you learned.
2. Define bullying. Bullying is intentional-not accidental-cruelty and there is a power imbalance where one child cannot hold their own. Normal conflict is when kids have a disagreement or a difference of opinion but both have equal power. Then ask: “What do you do if you see or experience bullying? How do you report it?”
3. Make kindness count! Consciously model kind behavior so your child sees kindness. Whenever you do a kind act, tell your child how good it makes you feel. Be explicit about your expectations: “I expect you to treat everyone kindly.” And look for opportunities for your child to be kind and then acknowledge it: “That was a very kind thing to do.”
4. Reinforce assertiveness. Kids with an assertive posture are less likely to be picked on. Teach your child: “Always look at the color of the talker’s eyes.” It will help him stand tall, hold his head up and appear more confident and less vulnerable.
5. Boost respect online and off. Teach kids to communicate with other people online in the same way they would face-to-face—with respect (“the way they would want to be treated.”) As one mom said, "The difference between right and wrong is the same on the Internet as it is in real life."
6. Make kids accountable to family Internet rules. Have kids sign a pledge to follow the rules. Have frequent chats to follow up. Give Internet freedom based on your child’s past trustworthiness and age. Increase those limits slowly as you verify trust.
7. Say no using a firm voice. Stress to your child that if she needs to respond, simple direct commands work best, delivered in a strong, determined voice: “No.” “Cut it out.” “Stop.”
8. Use the "Walk-By" Rule. Announce that you will be monitoring your child’s online behavior. And if at any time your child covers the screen, closes programs, or quickly turns off the computer, Internet privilege is lost. Do walk-by's as often as needed.
9. Find a pal. Tell your child there is sometimes safety in numbers. Kids who have even one friend to confide in can deal with bullying better than those one there one. Is there one kid your child can pair up with?
10. Avoid hot spots. Bullying usually happens in unsupervised areas like hallways, lockers and stairwells. Talk about “hot spots” with your child (places most likely to be frequented by bullies) and tell him to avoid those areas.
11. Build an adult ally. Ask: “Who would you go to if you needed help?” Help your child
identity an adult who he go to if he does not feel safe.
12. Get help, ASAP! If your child is using aggressive behaviors or appears to be victimized, request a meeting with the teacher, counselor or school psychologist. If you can’t find this kind of help at your school, seek a trained mental health professional in the community. The key to changing any behavior is not to give up. An effective behavior plan tailored to your child’s specific needs is crucial.
Preventing bullying is always about creating safe, respectful learning climates with caring adults at the helm. And all children need to learn in where they feel cared about and connected so they can succeed.
Dr. Michele Borba is an internationally recognized educational psychologist and expert in bullying, social-emotional learning and character development, regular “Today Show” contributor and featured on “Dateline,” “The View,” “Dr. Phil,” “Dr. Oz” and “The Early Show.” She has authored 24 books including: “UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About Me World” and “End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy: The Proven 6Rs of Bullying Prevention That Create Inclusive, Safe and Caring Schools.” Learn more at micheleborba.com, and follow her on Twitter.