3 Ways to Bully-Proof Your Child

Photo: Laura St. John/Courtesy Renee Glick PhotographyToday my second-grade son told me that there was a boy in his class that bothers every single child in the class -- except for him. "Every single kid?" I said, "...but you?" Maybe that's an eight-year-old exaggeration, but it still was enlightening to me. So I continued our conversation, dug a little deeper, and reflected on how and why my child may be more bully-proof than some of the twenty-something kids in his classroom.

Read More: 14 Ways to Help Your Child Defend Herself Against Bullying

He must be doing something right, but as parents, we can take a little credit here and there along the way -- right?

1. Get Them to Open Up to You
Curious minds (that's me) want to know what truly goes on behind the closed doors of school. Don't just stop at, "How was school today?" or you'll probably get the typical, boring old, "Good." Instead, probe like a detective: "Was everyone nice to each other in class today... and at recess?" This opens up the door, and you get the lowdown of who did what to whom. You quickly learn the names of the perpetual trouble-makers and bullies -- boys and girls alike. At this point I listen and give no opinions so my kids feel like they can openly tell me everything.

So, the first step to bully-proof your child starts with you. Since most kids don't like to tell their parents that they are being bullied -- whether they are scared to tell, embarrassed, or don't want to tell on the bully -- it's important to get them comfortable talking to you early, so you can help right away. Start up this kind of dialogue with your kids in preschool, when they want to tell you anything and everything about their day. If it becomes a routine, then they won't think you're weird for asking them to talk about it later in life. Let 'em think the music you listen to or clothes you wear are weird -- but not your conversation.

2. Open the Door to Conflict Resolution
More importantly, when my kids start to dish out what happened that day, I want to know how the conflict was handled. Was it resolved by the kids? Did a teacher intervene? So ask things like, "Did they work it out, or did anyone get in trouble?" Then, "What happened next? Did a grown up help?" I listen to their rendition of the story and that's when I begin my part of the conversation. I prompt my kids with questions that invoke empathy, "Was that right what he did? How do you think it made her feel?"

Once you've led them through questions to tell you a better way a situation could have been handled, say, "Yes! I totally agree -- you figured out a better way to handle that." So even though you totally led them there, they think it was all their idea, and it sticks. Teaching good conflict resolution skills and how to resolve problems peacefully will help bully-proof your child. If you spoon-feed them what you think they should do by just telling them -- instead of questioning -- then they don't have the opportunity to think about it for themselves, and they will be less prepared if they were truly faced with the problem tomorrow.

3. Promote Acts of Kindness
Whenever my kids' stories include a child who is annoying other kids or doing some kind of negative behavior, I say to my kids, "Sounds like she needs a friend." I am not agreeing or making excuses that the child's behavior is acceptable, but I see my kids' perspective change when I say, "Does anyone like her? Does she have any friends? How do you think that makes her feel?"

When "bad" kids get stuck in that rut of bothering all the kids, they are often (silently and annoyingly) screaming out for attention. Negative attention is easier to get than positive, and for kids -- it still beats no attention at all. Now I'm not saying that kids should be friends with bullies... because that may align them with the "wrong" side. All I'm saying is studies have shown that increasing peer acceptance is key to preventing bullying. So you can help bully-proof your child by teaching him how to demonstrate random acts of kindness to everyone -- even the bullies -- and hit 'em up when they least expect it.

So what happened when I asked my son why he was the only one who this boy didn't bother? He told me, "He asked me to be his friend. And I said okay." Enough said.

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