Thursday, October 17, 2013

How to Protect your Children from Bullying

Editor's Note: Periodically, we will post expert articles written by our own GDS alumni. We believe that the GDS community will enjoy hearing our alumni's stories and advice. Our first article is written by Kim Fisher Turner '88. 

A lot of media attention is given to what our schools doing to prevent bullying and protect students. But a lot of parents wonder what they should be doing at home to prevent their children from being victims. Here are some ways to insulate your children from bullying and help your children deal with bullying if it happens:

  • Social connections: the number one risk factor for being the victim of bullying is lack of close positive friends. Explain to them that friendship is about having fun together and building each other up, not tearing them down. It can be helpful to have some social connections outside of school friends, perhaps at church, sports teams or other extracurricular activities. Sometimes, spending time with peers that go to another school can give your child a new perspective and someone to talk to that isn’t part of their every day social circle.
  • Give your child opportunities to explore outside-of-school interests that highlight their talents or positive attributes. This can help your child build real, long lasting self esteem.
  • Talk to your child about their day at school every day. Ask open-ended questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Ask them about their classes, social events, friends, and any concerns they might have.
  • Make sure that home is a soft place to land. As long as children know that they are loved and accepted for who they are at home, they can weather some of the ups and downs of adolescence more easily. 
  • Listen, listen, listen. Tell your child you are here to help with any problems that they might be having. Many students tell me that they don’t want their parents to worry about them. I assure them that worrying and caring about them is in the job description of a parent.
  • Communicate with other parents, teachers and school staff so you are in the loop.
  • Talk to your children about bullying and the power of bystanders. Bystanders have a lot of power to stop bullying. If someone tells the Bully, “Stop that. That’s not okay,” 50% of the time it stops immediately.
  • If your child does tell you that they have been bullied, listen first, then react. It is our instincts as mama and papa bears to jump in and want to protect our kids. But we also want to keep lines of communication open. First listen to the whole story and talk with your child to figure out the best response. Make sure that they have some part in the solution so they don’t feel powerless.
  • Let your school administration now what is going on immediately so they can address the problem. 
  • Teach your child non-violent ways to deal with bullies like walking away, using humor to deflect attention, talking it out, playing with friends or travelling in groups.
  • Also talk to child about self confidence-good posture, eye contact and speaking clearly can help them present themselves as confident and assertive.

To get the conversation started about bullying, do this exercise with your children.
  • Give them a piece of notebook paper. 
  • First, have them crumble up the paper and stomp on it. 
  • Then have them open it up and smooth it out. 
  • Next, have them look at how scarred and damaged it is while they apologize to it and tell it they are sorry. 
  • Soon, they will realize that no words are enough to get the paper back to its original state. 
Children need to be made aware of the importance of their words and deeds. We as parents can model the
behavior to wish to see in our children by treating them as well as others around us with respect. We can also show them how to do the right thing, stand up for others and be vigilant about the safety of all children. Elie Wiesel poignantly wrote, “Take Sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented”

For more information about bullying prevention, see these websites:
About the Author: A 1988 graduate of GDS, Kim Fisher Turner is currently a school counselor in Athens, Ga. She has spent over 15 years working in education. She is also a licensed professional counselor who sees students and adults for career and transitional issues. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and then received a Master's in Education from the University of Virginia.