Bully-Proof Your Child: How to Deal with Bullies

Encourage Positive Behavior

  • Promote positive body language. By age 3, your child is ready to learn tricks that will make her a less inviting target. "Tell your child to practice looking at the color of her friends' eyes and to do the same thing when she's talking to a child who's bothering her," says Michele Borba, Ed.D., a Parents advisor and author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. This will force her to hold her head up so she'll appear more confident. Also practice making sad, brave, and happy faces and tell her to switch to "brave" if she's being bothered. "How you look when you encounter a bully is more important than what you say," says Dr. Borba.
  • Practice a script. Rehearse the right way to respond to a tough kid (you might even use a stuffed animal as a stand-in) so your child will feel better prepared. Teach him to speak in a strong, firm voice -- whining or crying will only encourage a bully. Suggest that he say something like, "Stop bothering me!" or "I'm not going to play with you if you act mean." He could also try, "Yeah, whatever," and then walk away. "The key is that a comeback shouldn't be a put-down, because that aggravates a bully," says Dr. Borba.
  • Erin Farrell Talbot, of New York City, prepped her 3-year-old son, Liam, on how to cope with two aggressive boys at day care. "We talked about how if one of them grabs his toy, he should say, 'No, stop! I'm playing with that!' in a loud voice," she says. "They stopped right away. I'm proud because he learned how to stick up for himself."
  • Praise progress. When your child tells you how she defused a harasser, let her know you're proud. If you witness another child standing up to a bully in the park, point it out to your child so she can copy that approach. Above all, emphasize the idea that your own mom may have told you when you were a kid: If your child shows that she can't be bothered, a bully will usually move on.

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