At first, it's hard to see the changes. They are subtle and small, but soon there is an undeniable sadness in your child's eyes. If you're lucky, you'll actually get an answer when you ask what's wrong, but most of the time, you just get nothing. Nothing's wrong, nothing happened and nothing much seems to matter.
It's a scary thing to discover that your child is being bullied. Lots of people hope it's just growing pains, but being bullied is not just a part of growing up. It takes courage to admit it, but like any challenge, it is best met head-on.
OK, you faced it; no doubt your child goes to school and gets bullied. By the time you realize what's going on, it is likely to be a well-established pattern. Now what? How can you break the cycle?
ILP: Instinct, Language and Practice
I think you have already started to end the cycle when you discover your child is being bullied and start talking. Let your child know that you believe them and that you will help. Now it's time for your ILP.
Kids already know what makes them feel uncomfortable; let them know that it's important to follow their instincts. If a person or situation makes them feel threatened; that feeling is valid.
We are constantly picking up environmental cues and assessing information subconsciously. Even if your child can't say why, a feeling of unease is worth respecting. Better to be safe than to be so polite you end up sorry.
We teach our kids to be polite, but sometimes we forget to teach them how to stay safe. Please and thank you are super important, but so are safe words.
When a kid feels threatened, he needs to have a go to phrase at the ready. My personal favorite is BACK OFF! My children have known from a very young age that anytime they feel threatened by anyone -- child, adult or group -- they will never be in trouble for saying back off. It's a great phrase because it attracts attention and help, surprises the bully and best of all, empowers the speaker.
Just like manners need practice, so do safe words. Some say over seventy percent of communication is body language, and I believe it. Whispering your safe words is going to be less effective that saying them with a strong voice and a head held high.
The first time my daughter tried to use her safe words she was only 5 years old. She stood there in her pink fuzzy slippers and stared at the ground. When she finally squeaked out "back off," it sounded more like a lamb than a lion, but it was a start. Three months later, she held her pig-tails high and clenched her tiny fists at her side, stepped forward and glared as she roared BACK OFF! It was amazing, but even better was the look of surprise and shock on the bully's face. He nearly stumbled as he literally stepped away from her.
Let your kids practice and role play so they can hear their own voices and show them how it's done. Let them get comfortable with the appropriate tone and encourage them to know when and how to use safe words.
If a kid doesn't feel secure and relaxed, school can be wasted. It's hard to learn when you get a note that says "You're dead outside." Believe me, I know. Recess looms large when you know that your best bet is to hide in the library or girls' room. (The library is always a better choice, by the way, but that's another story.)
Preventing bullying is best, but coping skills are just as important. Every human being on the planet needs to learn some basic coping life skills. Understanding boundaries, resolving conflict and building relationships are tools everyone will need, whether they spend their days in the playroom or the boardroom.
Remember, school is not just about academics, it's about life.