By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Do your children know what to do when they’re bullied at school? While no victims are to blame for experiencing bullying, their response at times can help diffuse some “entry level” bullying from escalating further.
Peter Navratil, licensed clinical social worker practicing at Tree of Hope Counseling in Rochester, said that a foundation of trust and communication can help children who are bullied get help as needed.
“They should feel comfortable reaching out to teachers and their parents about what’s going on,” Navratil said. “For kids who are experiencing bullying, if they don’t have a support system, it can feel very isolating and demeaning.”
Many children feel ashamed about bullying or fear retribution if they ask adults for help. Trusted adults who take their experience seriously can help them develop strategies for dealing with bullying.
“Kids who feel good about themselves have a way of shrugging it off,” Navratil said. “As soon as there’s no benefit to the bully, it tends to disappear. Kids have to have enough self-esteem —what I like to call ‘self-compassion’ — to let it roll off of their backs.”
Children who have a niche where they shine brightly — academics, sports, clubs or other activity — can become “bully-proof,” according to Navratil because they feel good about themselves and can ignore bully taunts.
Nancy McQueen Mooney has a master’s in education and works as a school counselor in the Brighton School District. She is also a counselor in private practice in Brighton. She encourages parents to help bullied children to find something they love to do at school or after school activity. “That can help so much,” McQueen said.
This strategy can help children develop better social skills and discover how they want to stand out in a positive way.
She said that bullies often target children who will respond dramatically.
She coaches children that instead of an emotional response, they should come back with a statement that diffuses the situation and even practice them in front of a mirror.
“Maybe be a little feisty, like saying, ‘I don’t remember asking your opinion’ to a put-down,” McQueen said.
Humor can also deflate bullying attempts.
She also teaches children mindfulness to help them calm down and not let bullying bother them. That strips away the bully’s emotional power over the victim.
It may help bullied children to realize why some kids bully others. Sometimes, it’s because they’ve been bullied themselves and want to gain control in a social setting instead of feeling like they can be victimized again. By diffusing the situation and offering friendship, some bullying victims can make a friend.
Trusted adults can also help children differentiate between verbal digs and bullying that can quickly turn dangerous. McQueen advises children to let an adult know right away if they don’t feel safe. It’s also important to not return bullying for bullying.
“Then it’s this vicious circle,” McQueen said. “That will never help at all. Not all bullied kids do that, but those who do are desperate and don’t know what to do.”
She works with parents and the students involved to resolve bullying issues among students. Pediatricians and therapists may also help.