Bullying. Just the word makes you disgusted doesn’t it? My heart goes out to kids who are bullied. Both Steve and I were bullied as kids. And to be honest with you, I worried a lot about my kids being bullied when we were raising them. As I began praying for my kids and doing some research on how to prevent bullying, I whittled down what I learned to 6 tangible steps I could take as a parent.
1. Know and listen attentively to your child. It sounds so simple but so easily gets lost in the pressure cooker of ministry. As pastors it’s easy to get so caught up in whatever is going on at church that you’re clueless about what’s happening in your child’s life. This is a mistake. One of the greatest gifts you can offer your child is to be involved in their lives. Know their friends, their coaches, their teachers and their enemies. So I gotta ask, how well do you know your child? Pause for just a moment and try to answer these quick questions:
- Who are your child’s best friends at school?
- Who is perceived to be the “troublemaker” in his class?
- What extracurricular activities is your child involved in and who are the adults in charge? How does your child feel about the adults involved?
- How would they rate you as a listener?
If you want your kids to be safe outside your home they have to feel safe in your home. Cultivate a “you can tell me anything” culture. If they’re afraid you’ll judge them – they won’t talk. So practice being an attentive listener.
Recently, my husband Steve and I asked our adult kids what we did right as parents and what they felt we did wrong. It was a great honest discussion. Two things they mentioned specifically about, Steve were that He was present at their events and he listened to them. Though he pastored a large active church, people knew our kids were a priority to him. He was present at sporting events, concerts, birthday parties and parent-teacher conferences. He listened as our kids processed, spiritual doubt, self-doubt, and all their other doubts. As a result, our kids felt safe. Did we mess up? You bet, but I’ll save that for another blog post. The bottom line is this, if your kids know you’re in their court, they have a much greater chance of not being leveled by bullies!
2. Understand how bullies work. Both in childhood and adulthood, bullies target those who are perceived as weak, those who lack the confidence to stand up for themselves. Bullies are people who have usually been hurt themselves and they seek to attack others to gain power. Part of bully prevention is teaching your kids to respect other kids but be careful that you encourage and allow them to set boundaries.
As those who minister, we try to raise “godly” kids. The temptation is to teach our kids that they have to “be nice” to everyone and not have personal boundaries. Unfortunately, this often translates to a child that to follow Jesus means allowing others to take advantage. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus set clear boundaries and we need to teach our kids to do the same.
Help your child develop skills to stand up for themselves. For example, it’s okay to say “no”, even to an adult. Similarly, don’t make your child hug someone (including grandparents or aunts and uncles) if they don’t want to. It’s important to respect your child’s boundaries and teach them the importance of other people respecting their boundaries.
Our youngest daughter was naturally sweet and had a hard time setting boundaries. That made her an easy target. One time she complained about mean things people were saying at school. We thanked Keri for being honest and held a family meeting. We asked our older kids to help by teaching Keri “come backs”. We assured Keri we were going to handle this situation together as a team. (Kids can’t handle a bully on their own) The older kids came alongside Keri, one of them confronted the bully, Steve talked with the staff at the school and they immediately got involved. Having the support of her family helped Keri set boundaries more easily.
3. Teach your kids how to silence their inner bully. Bullies target those who are perceived as weak or timid. Notice those characteristics in your child and develop a plan to build up their confidence. Have them practice the power of positive self-talk! It’s not that you want to raise a narcissist, but you want to raise kids who have strong self-esteem. Teach them to talk nicely to and about themselves.
Have them memorize verses, like, Joshua 1:9, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Our son was fairly timid at first and so my husband began to work with him. I still remember our son at age 5 strutting around the house chanting, “ I am strong and courageous!” and showing us his muscles!
4. Understand the signals. Be sensitive if your child cries and doesn’t want to go to school, or struggles with lots of headaches or stomach aches. Listen if your child complains that he doesn’t have friends at school or he’s having nightmares. Watch for torn clothes, lost items, bruises or scratches on his body. Notice if your child appears depressed or sad.
5. Become their facebook friend. You don’t need to be invasive and comment on their page but you do need to be aware. There are predators online who are likely targeting your child. So help them set privacy accounts and check in with them often.
6. Pray. Learning to pray scripture over my kids and praising God that He was big enough to protect them alleviated my anxiety as a parent greatly! I’m guessing it will do the same for you.
Becky Harling is an energetic speaker, author, and coach, inspiring audiences to overcome their greatest life challenges and reach their full God-given potential. Becky’s life experience as a Pastor’s wife, Women’s Ministries Director, survivor of breast cancer and childhood sexual abuse, all bring depth and realism to her message. She is the author of several books, including The 30 Day Praise Challenge For Parents. Learn more at www.beckyharling.com.