Written By Joy Fairhall, Positive Psychology and Wellbeing specialist
We all know the saying “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you”. This used to be said to kids who were upset by what other kids said about or called them. The reality, however, is that words can hurt, and sometimes very deeply and, in some cases, affect kids for life.
How can we protect our kids from bullying when we’re not there to protect them? How can we give them the skills to be resilient and confident in the big outside world and not let words hurt them?
Firstly, let me define exactly what bullying is.
‘Bullying occurs when words or actions are repeatedly used to harm someone’s wellbeing’.
Sure, there are times when we accidentally say or do things that are hurtful to others, however t’s important to understand that bullying is a deliberate behaviour. It’s done on purpose to make a person feel intimidated, threatened or powerless, and is often ongoing day after day after day.
And now before I get into the tips for raising resilient kids let me define exactly what resilient means.
“Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stress, adversity, failure, challenges, or even trauma.”
It’s not something that kids either have or don’t have; it’s a skill that kids develop as they grow. resilience can be defined as the ability – and tendency – to “bounce back.”
Kids reactions to bullies can range from being devastated by the comments to other kids where the bullies comments mean nothing at all. Of course, there are also others where the bullies impact lies somewhere between these two extremes. This is why building resilient kids is so important, it’s so we can future proof their reactions to comments made my bullies. How does building resilient kid’s future proof them from bullies? It all comes back to the bullying definition if the bullies don’t get the reaction they want, intimidation, fear etc, they tend to give up and move on.
The most important step in helping our children persevere when being bullied or facing other life challenges, is giving them a solid foundation of emotional resilience.
Teaching our kids, the ability to adapt, handle and overcome tough situations like bullying and other situations they will encounter in their life, needs to begin at home.
Tips to Build Resilience
Observe and Listen really Listen
One of the biggest challenges in stopping bullying is that many children feel they can’t talk about being bullied because they feel it’s their fault. As a parent the most heartbreaking thing to see is your child being the victim of bullying and them feeling that they are the ones at fault. Let them talk honestly about how they feel, don’t interrupt really listen to their feelings and emotions. The emotions they are feeling are very real to them even if you feel what they are saying is minor. It’s so important for kids to get their feelings and emotions out so you can then start to deal with them. If you shut them down with comments like ‘I’ve heard enough I’m doing something now’ or ‘I don’t think that’s sounds right’ we miss the opportunity to show our children we listen really listen to them and that’s it’s safe for them to share how they really feel.
When we encourage our kids to talk about bad things that happen to them, we help them make sense out of these experiences. Listening to their fears, stress or anger also helps them learn to express how they feel and once talked about reduces the pent-up anxiety around it.
Build Positive Emotions (Superpower Against Bullies)
It is so important to give kids many opportunities to have positive emotions. Sounds weird and too simple doesn’t it? Why and how do positive emotions build resilience? Providing our kids with many opportunities to be joyful truly and simply joyful simple and easily build resilience. Often as parents we are so busy parenting, making sure our kids change their clothes, brush their teeth, and do their homework, that we forget to have moments of sheer happiness and joy in our daily lives.
It’s been proven time and time again through research that the happier you are the more confident you feel which also gives you the benefit of bouncing back after times of challenges. The happier you are the more resilient you are a perfect tool against bullies who can seem to be able to smell unhappiness or anxiety in kids giving them easy targets to bully.
Extend Family Support (Superpower Against Bullies)
Some children might not be comfortable talking to their parents about being bullied or other concerns, or they feel their troubles may upset their parents. Building relationships with extended family is very important for your kids. Relationships with Grandparents, Aunts or Uncles or even a close family friend gives your child more opportunities for sharing emotions and feelings about bullies and receive the support they need. Building positive and open relationships outside the actual family unit also builds confidence and thus even more resilience
Encourage Positive Thinking (Superpower Against Bullies)
To give our kids the tool resilience we need to build their skills in looking at the wider picture and also their responses to situations. If a child faces a bullying situation, it is important to sit down with them and listen to what they are saying without the emotions of rage, injustice and protection you naturally feel. Listen to what they are saying as it will provide you with pointers about not only the support you can provide but also how serious things may or may not be.
Encourage them to think about things they may be able to do if the situation occurs again. Try to get them to make a list of things they can do in the future which immediately gives them some sense of control around future situations.
For example, if they are being bullied in the yard at school, what can they do? Encourage them to come up with solutions. On their list they might write things like
- Try not to get angry and breath
- Ignore the comments and not "take the bait"
- Stay in a group with friends so bullies don’t have a chance to be nasty
- If I see a bully coming up to me and I can walk over and stand near the yard teacher
- Play group games with my friends
By showing kids there are options we teach our children to look at problems in many ways, so they learn to see they do have some control and may have ways to solve it. Giving your children these skills builds resilience very quickly as they soon learn there are many ways to adapt and avoid challenging situations.
Build Self Esteem
When children are bullied their self-esteem becomes lower and lower and they start to believe what the bullies are saying to them. Having a healthy self-esteem is really important for all children and especially more so when they are being bullied. So how do you build a child’s self-esteem?
Praise the effort and actions they take for things they do rather than the end result. For example, if they are trying to shoot goals, praise them for the time they have taken to practice, the way they tried different positions and hand skills, instead of praising them for the goal. By showing them, you’ve seen the effort and time they put in builds the self-esteem so much more than praising the end result.
Encourage them to try new things and again praise them on the effort taken rather than the end result, it’s all about the time and persistence that builds the self-esteem as they see that their efforts are noted, and this then builds confidence and their self-esteem even more so.
Teach Mindfulness (Superpower Against Bullies)
Children who can calm themselves down when they feel their world is falling apart is very useful, not only in a bullying situation, but also for life itself. Bullies love and thrive on reactions and if your child uses mindful techniques it may assist them to reduce feelings of anxiety and in some cases reduce any aggressiveness they may also be feeling. Mindfulness teaches children techniques to become aware of themselves and their emotions, while also learning to self-control their reactions. Mindfulness is the best stress buster ever and teaching your child simple methods such as breathing and inner focus can support them in as little as three to five minutes, very useful in a school ground situation.
You can find a great mindfulness method called ‘3 Minutes to Calm’ that is very easy to learn and great for children of all ages (and parents to!) ready to download here for free. I created this method myself as a tool to use anytime and anywhere and to get results quickly and easily for all ages. Mindfulness helps our children to not only be able to recognize their own reactions but to better understand others, so they can more effectively cope with bullies.
Exercise (Superpower Against Bullies)
When children are sitting in front of a TV or a device, they can often sink deeper into replaying situations that occurred during the day over and over in their little heads which can raise more anxiety in our kids. Physical activity is not only enjoyable, but it calms our children’s bodies by releasing endorphins and dopamine happy hormones that make them feel better naturally. And of course, the happier they are and the less stressed they are the more resilient they become.
Physical exercise in a social setting works well as in addition to the benefits of exercise they are put in another social circle where they can build more confidence and lift their self-esteem. Find an activity they like and encourage participation and building of friendships from this circle.
Resilience helps kids navigate stressful situations. When kids have the skills and the confidence to confront and work through their problems, they learn that they have what it takes to confront difficult issues. The more they bounce back on their own, the more they internalize the message that they are strong and capable.
As parents, we may not be able to protect our children from the bullies that exist in the world, but we can help our kids build the resilience required to not allow bullying to have the devastating impact it is capable of having on a child's life. And thus, providing them with an essential coping tool they can take with them that will serve them well right into adulthood.
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