Helping your children handle bullies

 

 

By Britton LaTulippe

 

School was almost out, with just one month to go before summer break. But for one 8-year-old boy, the reprieve did not come soon enough. After being beaten unconscious in a public school bathroom by his giggling classmates, he went home and hanged himself. Again, he was only 8 years old.

In the past, when I read stories like this, I didn’t take them seriously enough. I saw them as “freak accidents” and never imagined that my own children, or the children of anyone I knew, could be at risk. Yet, according to a 2015 study by the Suicide Prevention Action Network, 1 in 5 children in public school consider suicide and 1 in 10 make an attempt.

Although those numbers are terrifying, the majority of kids in school aren’t suicidal. However, just because kids aren’t at their breaking point yet doesn’t mean they aren’t being physically or psychologically tormented.

A few years ago, I talked about bullying in Sunday school. I asked kids to raise their hands if they had ever been bullied. I expected a few, but what happened shocked me — everyone raised their hands. When I asked them to share, it was like I opened a floodgate of sorrow. Some kids shook their heads with tears in their eyes and could hardly talk, while others spoke casually about the most terrible physical and verbal assaults, laughing it off as if it were no big deal.

Then I asked, “Be honest, how many of you have bullied someone else?” Again, every hand went up, some quickly, others more reluctantly, but they all went up. And this was in Sunday school!

Parents, we have a serious problem on our hands. The question isn’t whether your kids will bully or be bullied, but to what extent. Schools can’t stop it; the teachers’ hands are tied. That means it is up to you to bully-proof your kids.

When I was in high school I attended an all-male, military boarding school in Virginia. So, when it comes to bullying, I’ve seen it all. Here are a few of my tips on dealing with bullies:

• Ignore It. Really?! You know the old expression, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can make me want to hurt myself.” Okay, that’s not the original version, but it’s my version. Physical violence tears at the body, verbal violence tears at the soul. That doesn’t mean we raise crybabies who fall to pieces whenever they hear an unkind word; but on the other hand, kids who are systematically targeted for public humiliation should not tolerate it.

The worst thing we can do is tell kids to “just ignore it.” A kid finds himself upside down with his head in a toilet bowl with the entire school laughing, and our solution is “ignore it.” Really?! I’m sure that is exactly what every parent and teacher would do in the same situation, right?

Ignoring bullies results in one of two scenarios: 

1. The bullies turn up the heat until ignoring them is impossible.

2. They get bored and find a weaker victim. And I’m sorry, moving the target off one kid’s back onto a weaker kid isn’t exactly the kind of breakthrough solution we are looking for.

Bullies have to be confronted and disarmed. Never appeased. Never ignored.

• A Lesson for Kids. Here is some of what I told the kids in my Sunday school: “Before you bully someone else, remember, you can’t ridicule the artwork without ridiculing the artist. In the same way, you can’t mock the creature without mocking the Creator. Will you dare call God’s creation garbage? ... I don’t care if all the snot-nosed 9-year-olds in third grade agree that you are worthless. Do they know better than God? So, hold your head up high. Don’t lose heart. School does not last forever, and bullies come and go.”

• Plea to Parents. I’m not trying to terrify parents. Most of our kids will make it through the school year with just a few bumps and bruises. On the other hand, we must remain vigilant because bullying has the power to scar our children for life, or worse.

Talk to your kids, but also beware that the older they get, the less likely they are to confide in you. Talk to teachers, but with the understanding that their classes are crowded and a lot of the bullying flies under their radar.

Talk to other kids who attend the same school. They are more likely than teachers to know if there’s a problem.

Self-defense is a must. Even a few lessons can give your kids the upper hand in a dangerous situation. If you aren’t familiar with martial arts, I recommend Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Yet, even self-defense only goes so far. What if your kid has multiple attackers, his attackers have weapons or are also skilled in martial arts, or their attacks are verbal?

At the end of the day, when all else fails, parents can’t. Our children are too valuable. If we find our kids in the cross hairs of aggressive bullies, we have to act. Have a sit-down with the principal. Have a sit-down with the bullies and the bullies’ parents, not to attack them, but to come up with a solution. And if a solution can’t be reached, take your kid and go. Find another school or homeschool. Whatever burden that puts on you, you already know that your kids are worth it.

May you have a bully-proofed school year!

 

Britton LaTulippe is a homeschooling father of six, the owner of Blue Manor’s Online Academy (BlueManorAcademy.com), author of “Revealing School,” plus the author and illustrator of more than 70 children’s books. You can email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .