A parent beams with pride when their child is polite, puts others first, and follows the rules. This is what we strive to teach our kids, but there comes a time when these nice kids need to assert themselves in a different manner. When faced with a bully, oftentimes these nice kids shy away from standing up for themselves in fear of “being too mean” or “getting into trouble.”
While their hearts are innocent and clearly in the right place, these children need guidance from parents and educators to know when it’s appropriate to speak firmly and defend themselves. Unfortunately, it is likely most kids will be faced with a situation where they will need to know how to appropriately stand up for themselves against a bully.
The Steps to Take
Although every bullying situation is different and some steps may need to be skipped, your child should understand the typically appropriate order of steps to take in order to stand up for themselves.
Ask the bully to stop. This is applicable when they are being teased or a “pestering” type of situation. A child must know that they don’t have to put up with any type of mean, bothersome, or annoying behavior from another student. Using their voice to ask or demand that they stop their bullying behavior is perfectly appropriate and not being rude or mean.
Tell a teacher or trusted adult. If the bully refuses to stop and the behavior persists, going to the teacher or another adult is the next step. Included in this is always telling you as their parents, too, so you can know what’s happening and get involved if needed.
Defend yourself. Here’s where it may get tricky. If they have used their voice, told a teacher, and the bully is still persisting, it may be time for your nice kids to stand up and defend themselves. Running away is most definitely preferred and should be done whenever possible, but it may be necessary for them to push, punch, or kick their way out of a dangerous situation in order to be able to run for help. They should never feel like they have to just endure this bullying and don’t have a right to get themselves out of a harmful situation however is necessary. As your children get older, perhaps consider getting them into self-defense training. This will empower them to know they have the skills to get out of a dangerous situation safely.
When to Throw Out the Rules
As a child, it is hard to grasp the concept of knowing when it’s OK to break the rules. We tell our kids to be quiet when the teacher’s talking, to keep your hands to yourself, and if you can’t say anything nice, say nothing at all. There are all these rules and codes of conduct we instill in our kids, and nice kids want to obey these and please parents and teachers by following the rules and not stirring up trouble.
So when is it OK to interrupt the teacher? When can you grab somebody’s arm to stop them from hitting you? When can you speak firmly, normally considered rudely, to another student when they just won’t stop?
These are difficult questions for a child to be able to answer, especially when in the midst of a traumatic bullying situation. As a parent, talk through different scenarios with your child of when it would be appropriate to use their hands, when to speak harshly or firmly, and when telling a teacher is necessary and not “tattling.” Reinforce with them that they will not be in trouble with you for standing up for themselves in an appropriate manner. Communicate with your school’s administration the plans you have discussed with your child to defend themselves and that you wish to be contacted in any situation such as this that involves your child. Reinforcement at home will help give your child confidence to act assertively in these bullying scenarios.
Be sure, though, that your children know that a physical response is a last resort and is only for extreme situations when the steps above cannot be followed and urgent action is required. Personal safety expert and founder of Kidpower, Irene van der Zande, states that “children and teens need to know when they have the right to hurt someone to stop that person from hurting them.” Consideration should also be given to what you feel your child is able to handle and the best approach given their personality and physical abilities.
Why It Matters So Much
Many parenting styles and personalities tend toward peacemaking and avoiding conflict. There is nothing wrong with this and certainly more of this is needed today, but we as parents must be careful not to translate this into meaning that these nice kids just “have to take” whatever they’re being dealt. If they feel as though they should simply allow this abusive or bullying behavior and “be strong” on the inside, then they will learn to respond accordingly all throughout their lives. In relationships and social interactions, they will likely expect and permit others to treat them with disrespect.
In contrast, these nice kids may begin to learn an unwanted lesson and pick up on these bullying habits as “normal” behavior and begin demonstrating similar aggressive traits in their engagement with others. If nothing is done to stop it, then it must be OK and can be imitated.
Therefore, not only is it important for their own safety and well-being that they learn how to be assertive and to stand up for themselves defensively, it is critical to their social development and future interpersonal relationships.
Bottom line is that every child is unique. Children will respond to and process a bullying encounter in many different ways, and each individual scenario should be looked at in reference to the children involved. However, nice kids who are afraid or hesitant to stand up for themselves need the reinforcement and encouragement from parents and educators that they do not deserve to be treated this way and need to put their own safety as priority in these situations.
Does your child tend to put others’ feelings above their own? Are they worried about standing up for themselves in fear of getting into trouble? If so, please share in the comments below any advice for what has worked in your family when it comes to bullying.