How to deal with bullies

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Dr. Janet Heller, professor of English and women's studies at Western Michigan University, shares her tips on how to deal with bullies and bullying. Having been a victim of bullying throughout her childhood,. Heller has written the book, How the Moon Regained Her Shape, in part because she wanted to give children the help with bullying that she never received. She wanted to emphasize they need to hold onto their self-esteem no matter what someone says or does to them, and to teach kids that friends can help us through life's troubles.

While children need to learn to cope with constructive criticism, occasional tactless remarks and accidental touching, they often need adult help with frequent harassment - whether it is verbal or physical. Kids rarely have the social or physical skills to deal with persistent bullies. Here is some advice for families whose kids get bullied.

1) Make sure that communication lines are open. Listen carefully to children when they complain about being taunted, threatened, pushed, or hit by other kids. Don't dismiss their grief with "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me." Name-calling does hurt and can wound a child's self-esteem for many years. Bullying is dangerous to kids' mental, emotional and physical health.

2) Teach your children not to bully others by pointing out that everyone's body is different and we all have different strengths and weaknesses. We can also disagree with one another without resorting to name-calling or fights. Discuss topics like these with your family: Is anyone's body perfect? Do we have a right to make remarks that may hurt other people's feelings? How can we have friendly arguments?

3) Talk with children about different options for countering verbal or physical attacks, without being mean or violent. Kids can ask the bully to leave them alone and tell the bully they are not interested in such comments, threats, etc. Kids can tell a nearby adult, such as a neighbor, parent, grandparent, teacher, school psychologist, or principal. They can ask their friends for advice.

4) Point out to children that when someone insults them with cruel words, these words do not make the insult true. Bullies often power-trip by trying to make others feel bad about themselves. Children can thwart bullies by retaining their self-confidence and happiness with themselves. Remind kids they have friends and family members who like them and care about them.

5) Teach children that no matter how big, strong, or popular someone is, he or she does not have the right to hurt our bodies or our feelings. All kids need and deserve respect.

6) Help children understand that other kids may need them to stand up against a bully. Kids need to find a way to prevent bullies from hurting anyone. It is not tattling to tell an adult that a bully or a gang is planning to attack someone. If one adult will not listen, children need to keep telling adults until someone assists them.

7) Urge children to tell you or other adults if they see kids carrying weapons, especially if the other children threaten to use these weapons.

8) If bullying occurs at school, talk with teachers or the principal. Encourage schools to hold class workshops on bullying with trained social workers or psychologists. Also, suggest the school establish a no-tolerance policy for bullying to keep kids safe. Many schools also have a "Bully Box," a mailbox which allows students to report harassment anonymously.

9) Consider giving your children basic training in self-defense. Many classes for young people are offeredin karate, judo and other martial arts. Such training can give children self-confidence and teach them how to block blows and frustrate attackers.

10) Dispel myths about bullies. Bullies can be any size, any sex, any age and any skin color. We need to help children understand that bullying is not cool and that they have a right to counter bullies in any constructive way.

By Janet Ruth Heller, author of the book for kids, How the Moon Regained Her Shape.

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