We all remember the old schoolyard rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” As optimistic as the familiar jingle is, any form of bullying, including name-calling, can have a detrimental effect on a child’s self-esteem.
Bullying comes in many levels of severity, from dangerous threats to physical abuse to cruel words. While you may not be able to prevent bullying at school, there are some proactive methods you can practice with your child to give them the necessary tools to build solid confidence and a strong sense of self-worth.
Children are influenced by how their peers perceive them from the moment they enter the classroom. Instill a healthy self-esteem as early as possible by teaching your child to focus more on the internal than the external. Often, children are caught up in an external referencing system, which means they tend to focus on how others view them without a reality check. By introducing an internal referencing system, your child will learn how to think independently from others’ beliefs. One way to practice this method is by allowing your child to have rational opinions in day-to-day situations. Put an emphasis on your child’s feelings, beliefs and values, and encourage active brainstorming. This teaches your child to filter external opinions and determine whether or not those beliefs fit with their own.
Here are some questions you can ask your child when dealing with a bully: “Do you agree with them?”, “What do you think about what they said?”, “What is important to you?”, “How does that fit with your beliefs?”
It’s no secret that some children are more outgoing than others; these extroverted children often hold something called a “toward” approach, which means they go for what they want with a positive perspective on the outcome. Shy children who steer clear of their peers tend to hold an “away” approach, which means they choose actions and words that avoid conflict and potential issues because they feel safer knowing that there are less risks of embarrassment, rejection or confrontation. Children hosting an “away” perspective are likely and easy targets for strong personalities and bullies. Encouraging your child to practice a “toward” way of thinking teaches them how to build rapport with their peers.
A Healthy Circle
Children thrive in healthy friend groups, and having a solid circle of pals decreases the likelihood of being singled out by a bully. Encourage your child at a young age to notice commonalities, assume others will like them, and invite others to join their group.
Additionally, teaching your child to notice positive physical behaviors of others and mildly mirroring them can develop physical rapport skills. For example, if other children are sitting cross-legged playing a board game, suggest that your child join them and do the same. Most of the time, playmates will instinctively include another child who moderately mimics their physical play.
Being surrounded by caring relationships will lead to a more natural desire to do an internal reference check as new friends with fresh opinions and behaviors are introduced into your child’s life.
Confidence will carry your kiddo through even the most difficult times. Teach your child to practice “anchoring,” a term used to create a visual, auditory or kinesthetic cue to trigger a positive response. The response can be an unnoticeable, physical motion done in times of stress; think of it as pressing a “magic button.” Tell your child to press that hypothetical button during multiple positive experiences, such as eating a tasty treat, laughing at a movie or receiving an “A” on a quiz. Once they’ve associated the button with positive situations, encourage your child to push the button during times of stress; this action will provide a natural boost of positive adrenaline.