With Dr. Angharad Rudkin, Psychologist and Author
Unfortunately, we cannot escape bullies in this world. Mean-spirited people will always exist, and although we can’t magically make this issue disappear, we can give our kids tools on how to handle these uncomfortable experiences. When kids get picked on, it can often feel like there’s nothing they can do about it. While it’s true that we can’t control someone else’s behaviour, there are things that can help.
We spoke to Dr. Angharad Rudkin, clinical psychologist and co-author of “Find Your Girl Squad”, who shared ten things we should know about bullying…
1. The First Thing to Do Is Get Cross
Make sure your kids know that it’s never acceptable for someone to hurt them or treat them unkindly. Nobody has the right to do that, and kids need to feel empowered to take a stand against it. If your kid has been dealing with bullying behaviour from anyone, but has been too nervous to do anything about it, help them to make the decision that they’re going to get it sorted.
2. Bullying Takes Different Forms
It’s obvious to know when someone is hurting you if they’re physically doing so. Hitting or hair-pulling is easy to spot. But sometimes bullying isn’t so obvious. Kids can pretend they’re being funny, when actually they’re being unkind. They can laugh off a nasty verbal attack with a casual comment like: “It was only a joke,” or “Just messing around!” Kids may then mistakenly think that it’s their fault for being upset. Tell your kids to trust how they feel. If someone’s “jokes” make them feel like they want to cry, or like they wish they could evaporate into thin air, then that is bullying.
3. Bullies Want You to Stay Silent
Bullies are hoping that their victims don’t reach out to anyone and that they’ll feel there’s no way out. Take time to talk with your kids and encourage them to share their experiences so they feel confident to speak up if something’s wrong. Whether it’s to friends or teachers, or at home with you, kids need to feel comfortable to voice the situation. The lesson to give to your kids is that if nobody knows when something bad is happening, then nobody knows to help.
4. People Often Bully Because They Want Attention
Most bullies misbehave in the way they do because they’re seeking attention. Just like toddlers who scream and tantrum, bullies are eager to have you focus on them. Although it can be really challenging to do, ignoring them is a smart option. Explain to your kids that, just like a toddler screaming and throwing their toys all over the room, bullies will most likely try harder before they back down. Give your kid tips on what to do, like hunting around in their bag for something, reading a book, or doing maths in their head. There will most likely be a big reaction at first, but eventually if a bully is ignored for long enough, they’ll get bored and move along.
5. Body Language and Posture Reflect Emotions
Educate your kids on the connection between inner feelings and outer appearance. When you’re in a bright mood, you’ll usually stand up taller, make eye contact and have a spring in your step. If you’re feeling down, though, you might slump, drag your feet and look downwards. Explain to your kids that it’s a lot easier to pick on someone who’s feeling vulnerable. A simple but effective way to manage bullying is to appear confident. Encourage your kids to stand up straight, with their shoulders back and head held high. Even this small change can signal strength, which can scare bullies off.
6. People Often Pick on the Very Thing We’re Most Unsure About
When we have an insecurity about something, it becomes our weak spot that we’re especially sensitive to. Often bullies will figure out what you’re self conscious about, and hone in on it. The trick is not to give them the reaction they want. Let your kids know that they can act as if it doesn’t get under their skin, and pretending it doesn’t bother them can be a way to ward off bullies. Help kids visualise their superhero strength. Maybe they have an invisible force field that comes down, allowing any mean words to ping off, leaving them unscathed. Positive visualisation can be quite helpful in times when you need to act brave, but are feeling scared on the inside.
7. Happy, Confident People Don’t Bully
If you feel good about yourself, you won’t need to bring others down. Bullying is directly linked to insecurity, and oftentimes bullies have unhappy home lives too. This doesn’t mean their behaviour is excusable, but it may help us to understand it a bit better. It may be helpful for your kids to know that bullies aren’t all-powerful superhumans. In reality, they’re quite the opposite.
8. A Team of Supporters Can Help
If your kid’s experiencing bullying, it’s essential that they have a team of supporters. They may feel isolated and want to hide away, but building a peer group will help. Help them find their friend squad at school, and facilitate hangouts with people that like them. Remind them what a fantastic person they are, and make it clear that you’re on their team, all the way.
9. Bystanders Aren’t ‘Innocent’
It can feel scary when a person witnesses bullying, and they may feel too nervous to do anything about it. But doing nothing can be as hurtful as the bullying itself. If your kid has been in a situation where they’ve witnessed bullying but done nothing, talk to them about how sometimes doing nothing can actually make things worse. It can be especially tough if your kid’s friends stand by silently while they’re getting picked on, but the best approach is to talk about it so that everyone can work together to figure out how to stand up for one another.
10. It’s Never Too Late to Change Our Behaviour
As much as it’s hard to admit as parents, sometimes our own kids can be the ones who are behaving unkindly. If you’ve discovered your child has been picking on someone else, make sure they understand that this doesn’t define who they are. Yes, they have done something cruel and wrong, but it doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. Help them to think about why they behaved the way they did, to get to the root of the cause. Did it make them feel big or cool? Did it make them feel part of a certain group? Chat with your kid about why they got involved, and then come up with a plan on how to make it right. Although they can’t erase past mistakes, your kids do have the ability to make better choices next time.
As protective parents, it can be easy to personalise our kids’ experiences. We can get too close and make it about us. Remember that if your child is getting bullied, it’s their experience, not yours. Try to allow them to have their own feelings without making assumptions about how they might react. Your role as a parent is to listen, understand your child’s point of view, and be supportive. Be on your kid’s team, keep talking about what’s going on, and work together to make a plan.
Dr. Angharad Rudkin is a Clinical Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. She has worked with children, adolescents, and families for over 15 years. Angharad has an independent therapy practice and teaches Clinical Child Psychology at the University of Southampton. She regularly contributes to articles on child and family wellbeing for national newspaper and magazines, and is a relationship expert for Metro newspaper. Angharad appears on TV and radio regularly as an expert on child and family issues. Angharad wrote a book with Ruth Fitzgerald about friendships in girls, “Find your Girl Squad” and has co-written a parenting book “What’s my Child Thinking?”.