I grew up with the rhyme: “Sticks and stone can break my bones but names will never hurt me.” We were taught that rhyme at a young age because kids are mean. However, the rhyme isn’t true. Names do hurt us and sometimes they hurt us more than the sticks and stones.
Our schools do a great job these days trying to address the bullying issue. Teachers and administrators work hard to create awareness and to design programs that will hopefully turn their schools into “bully free” zones. These efforts make a difference, however there have always been mean kids and there will always be mean kids, not to mention mean adults. To make matters worse, with technology, the meanness doesn’t stay at school. It follows our children home and haunts them via facebook and texting. As parents, we need to help our kids manage this problem. We need to bullyproof them.
Just like bullets bounced off Superman because he was bulletproof, words should bounce off our kids because they are bullyproof. That doesn’t mean they don’t hurt. It just means, they don’t impact how our children view themselves. There are many things we can do to bullyproof our kids but the following four are crucial.
1. Help them find a niche. Kids cope better when they connect with something. How does your child identify herself? Is she a musician or an artist or an athlete or a volunteer? My 12 year old will tell you that he’s a philosopher who plays the cello, loves books, and runs cross-country. However, he’s a philosopher first and he’ll happily engage you in a conversation about the meaning of life. The video below is about a violinist who survives constant bullying because of his love of music.
2. Talk about their brilliant future. When my daughter was little she could tell me all about her future as a veternarian living in a big house with three dogs, two cats, two kids, and a “handsome prince” kind of guy. She ended up majoring in psychology in college and is allergic to pet dander but you get the point. It’s easier for them to manage the adversity in their lives if they can see the future.
3. Find them fascinating. We are the self-esteem builders in our children’s lives. When we listen to them without watching tv at the same time, when we stop what we’re doing because they want our attention, when we struggle to learn how to use the controller so we can play basketball with them on the XBox, we value them. And don’t under-estimate the power of words. Remind your children how amazing you think they are; remind your children of their gifts; and remind them that they can make a difference.
4. Have conversations about mean kids. Don’t assume that because your children don’t complain about bullying, that they’re not picked on by other kids. My older brother was a tall, athletic, handsome kid in high school and sometimes other kids called him arrogant, selfish, and stuck-up. They made those assumptions because he was tall, athletic, and handsome. The words bounced off him because he knew he was a nice kid. Plus our mom reminded us often that we should be careful not to judge someone else. She told us that terrible things could be going on in the life of a mean kid. Maybe he has mean parents or maybe his father is ill. She told us that in the long run it’s the mean kid who suffers the most. My mother accomplished two things: First, she made us feel compassion for the mean kid and second, she insured that we would never want to be a mean kid.
We can do many things that will help our children manage a bullying experience. Once they’re past it, they will have the tools to better handle future challenges with mean people and they might even turn into more compassionate and less judgmental adults. Oddly, many of us who were bullied as children recognize that we’re better, stronger, happier adults because of the experience.
What are you doing to help bullyproof your children?