How To Help Your Kids Deal With Bullies
by Grant Stenzel, MS LCPC
Bullies are not new.
We have had bullies since the beginning of time. One of my favorite bullying stories is from II Kings 2:23-24.
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.
Now, we can’t call down curses to have bears deal our bullies, but I believe the Bible gives us other more practical solutions.
Who is a bully?
A bully is someone who is insecure, jealous, or scared. Bullies often hurt other people so that no one will mess with them. They are overcompensating for their fears.
There is a phrase we often use in counseling: “Hurt people hurt people.” Bullies have been hurt by others, so they are now acting out their struggles at school or within the neighborhood. I understand that it is hard to have compassion on someone who may be hurting your child, but remember – someone hurt that bully first.
Actually, we shouldn’t be surprised when bullying occurs. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
People tried to bully Jesus throughout His entire ministry. Furthermore, He allowed himself to be bullied for our glorious redemption. So if your son or daughter is bullied that does not mean there is something wrong with your child; it means there is something wrong with our world. Reassure your child that their Savior was bullied and He understands what they are going through.
Encourage your child not to react, or try and rationalize with a bully.
“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.” (Proverbs 26:4)
The goal is to walk away, or to ignore the bully. The bully is looking for a reaction; if he or she gets it that will positively reinforce his or her behavior like giving a treat to a dog. Do not give the bully the reward he or she is looking for and the behavior should extinguish itself in time. Therefore, the bully will look for his or her reward somewhere else.
I understand this concept well. I have to confess that in grade school I loved getting reactions (I still kind of do). I would go around and pull different girls’ hair on the playground. Can you guess which one I would go back to the next day? Yep, the one that reacted the most and ran after me; she was the one I would continue to gain my reward of attention.
Children can help prevent bullying by staying in a group.
Bullies are similar to lions hunting prey; they are looking for the isolated antelope away from the herd. Remember bullies are actually scared themselves. So, often they will go after the easiest looking prey. Children can also benefit from confident body language. Standing tall and not slouching shows confidence. Bullies often will not go after self-assured people.
Remind your child to report bullying. Teachers and principals cannot help if they are uninformed. Encourage your children to tell you when they are getting bullied. Continue to remind them that it is not their fault. Although there are some great teachers and administrators out there, sometimes we run into school staff who seem to ignore student and even parent pleas for help. Keep calling. Keep being persistent with such staff. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. If a teacher doesn’t help, go to the principal. If the principal does not help, contact a higher authority such as the district superintendent.
Lastly, when your child comes to you about a bully, do not make it about you. Often times, well-intended parents hear about a bully, get angry and start declaring what they are going to do to fix the problem.
First, listen your child. Ask questions. See how they feel about the whole ordeal. Offer them comforting and validating language. It is normal if you are upset when someone is bullying your child, but you need to put your child’s feelings in front of yours. If you are angry, vent later to a friend or your spouse. When parents overreact, children feel abandoned. The issue is no longer about them, it is about the parents. It is not a good thing when children feel they have to comfort their parents as opposed to the parents comforting the children.
Perhaps you can share a story with your child of a time you had be bullied. Explain to them that Jesus understands what it is like to be bullied; they can come to Him in prayer to receive peace and comfort. If your child is having a difficult time dealing with bullies, then perhaps it is time to see a good Christian counselor for assistance.