As sure as kids return to school each Fall in the U.S., bullying will be encountered in the classroom each school year. In these early days of September classes, would-be aggressors are getting a feel for who they think might be an easy mark in the class. As the days wear on and a young person confirms that he or she can pick on specific classmates without their standing up for themselves, their bullying behavior escalates.
Assertive responses are particularly effective in countering bullying because the child who masters this type of direct, emotionally honest communication demonstrates that a bully's attacks will be answered in a fair, but formidable way. Finding the initial target to be too powerful to provoke, the child who bullies will most often move on.
Before the school year gets into full swing, parents and teachers can teach their kids these four easy-to-remember, simply-to-apply rules for using assertive communication to STANd up to bullying behavior.
Rule 1: Show Strength
Showing strength does not mean flexing muscles or challenging a bully to arm wrestle. Rather, teach kids to show their inner strength by speaking with a confident, even voice and standing an appropriate distance from the bully (not in their face, not shrinking back). Also, encourage your child to look a bully directly in the eye. Making eye contact is one of the best ways that young people can demonstrate strength to a bully.
Rule 2: Tell a Trustworthy Adult
The main strategy of a child who bullies is to make his victim feel alone and powerless. The best way for a child to counter that strategy is to tell a helpful adult about what is going on and ask for that adult's support. When the aggressive young person realizes that he will not be able to keep a victim isolated -- that the victim is strong enough to reach out and connect with others -- he begins to lose power.
Sometimes adults fail to acknowledge the seriousness of bullying, but more often, grown-ups are not aware of what is going on. These days, intimidators use non-classroom time, including the internet, to bully their peers. It is a kid's job to bring these behind-the-scenes methods to light and to create awareness in adults about bullying.
Many kids worry that they will be called a "tattletale" if they tell an adult what is going on. Guess what? That is exactly what the bully wants his/her target to think! A child who bullies others specifically aims to make his victim feel all alone and powerless. When kids tell an adult about what is happening and get their support, they regain their voice!
If your child has tried to manage a bullying situation on his own, but has been unsuccessful in stopping the bullying, reassure him that telling an adult is the next step and the most powerful thing he can do.
Rule 3: Assert Yourself
In the heat of an encounter with a physically, verbally or emotionally aggressive peer, it can be very challenging for a child to respond effectively. When kids learn and practice assertive phrases for standing up to bullies, they become well-equipped to handle incidents of conflict and bullying with their peers.
Parents and educators can teach, rehearse and role model short, to-the-point, assertive phrases that let others know that they will not participate in their bullying, nor will they be bullied. In my workshops with kids, I nickname these types of phrases Bully Bans and give kids practice generating original phrases such as:
• "Not cool!"
• "Knock it off."
• "Cut it out."
• "I like the way I look."
• "That was not funny."
• "I can take a joke, but what you said was not funny--it was mean."
• "Friends don't do that to friends."
The important thing to remember about assertive phrases is that they do not put down or attack the bully, which is never a good idea. Likewise, Bully Bans are not effective when said through tears or a whining voice. Bully Bans are simply brief, assertive statements used to stand up to bullies and stop bullying behavior.
Rule 4: Now!
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they are up against a bully is to ignore repeated bullying and hope that the problem will go away. While bullying usually begins in a relatively mild form -- name calling, teasing or minor physical aggression -- it often becomes more serious when the bully realizes that his victim is not going to STANd up for himself. The longer a bully has power over a victim, the stronger the hold becomes. Taking action against the bully -- and taking it sooner rather than later -- is the best way to gain and retain power.
Signe Whitson, LSW is a school counselor and national educator on bullying prevention. She is the author of four books, including the recently released 8 Keys to End Bullying: Strategies for Parents & Schools and Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young People Cope with Bullying. This article features excerpts from Friendship & Other Weapons. For workshop inquiries or additional tips on how to bullyproof your kids, please visit www.signewhitson.com, Follow Signe on Twitter @SigneWhitson and Like her on Facebook.