Bully Proof your Children

To begin, let me say I was bullied throughout my schooling, both at primary and secondary level. This is a subject I approach very seriously. I have taught for years and I have seen many approaches to the bullying issue – most fail. I am also a keen observer and student of the human condition, particularly since I became a mother. All of what I am about to say is based on science, not parenting myth. But if youwant verification, all you have to do, is go to a playground and closely watch how people interact.

In my experience, apart from children who come from backgrounds of absolute neglect, there is one key group of children who are bullied. It has nothing to do with temperament. The children I call Owls, who others might call shy, can be as resilent and self-assured as others with more social temperaments.Being a victim of bullying has a lot to do with parenting style. As this group of parents also suffer easily from guilt, I apologise in advance. The key is to take any sense of guilt and transform it into energy for change.

(NB I work backwards: I found childrenwho hadn’ t ever had issues with bullying, and these were the kinds of things their parents had done when raising them.)

1. Forget about the bully. They will have a Childish Parent The Childish Parent of some kind and aren’t going to change any time soon. They are not your concern, your child is.

2. Make sure the adults in charge of the setting are dealing with any issues appropriately, do they use Circle of Concern? ( http://www.education.unisa.edu.au/bullying/concern.html

How they deal with small issues (Children Bullying and Telling Tales: The Link ) is a great indicator. If they aren’t you will probably  need to change school/daycare etc, but you’ve got to get the right place – otherwise things are just going to repeat themselves. (I know it’s not fair that the victim has to move and not the bully, it’s about protecting the victim first.) The key when you choose the next one is the amount of calm you notice. (The calmer the environment, the more likely the adults understand and are managing the children in their care.) Children should be purposely active, not manically active; the FEWER colours the better; and the FEWER toys and acitivities available the better. There should ideally be NO electronic noise or music either. It might be difficult to find somewhere like this, so look into alternatives like Homeschooling, Montessori and Steiner. There’s no harm in reading and asking questions. Ask lots of questions.

3. Include a Day Story (Autobiography: Why you need to have one.) as a regular part of your routine.

4. Check if your child is likely to be vulnerable to bullying. The key is their ability to make steady eye-contact with their mothers. This is not a licence to demand eye-contact, children who bullies tend to avoid naturally have great eye-contact – at least with their mothers, regardless of temperament. It’s a symptom of resilience. Make sure your eye-contact with them is warm and non-intrusive. Let them break eye-contact every time they want to. Encourage eye-contact as good manners, but never force it or be intense about it.

5. Deal with any lying that your child does. Yes, they do lie. All children lie. Pull them up on it – every time. (When Children Lie)

6. Take control of basic parenting situations – it gives children a sense of security. Don’t buy rubbish food, remove all fizzy from the house. Children will eat well if they only have healthy food available – and no alternatives. Be wary of making Owls eat wheat, eggs, dairy fish, etc if they have a natural aversion to them – broccoli, sprouts and zucchini are still fair game – at least have these on the plate and get them to lick the food (it can take 50 or more tastes to add a new food to their repitoire). Have early bedtimes, about 40 minutes before you think they should be asleep. 20 mintues for general mucking around, 10 minutes for story and cuddles, 3 minutes for them to tell you anything they need to tell you and 7 minutes to get to sleep. Our five year old has a 6.30pm bedtime, our nine year old a 7.15pm bedtime. (Three year olds dropping their last sleep are another matter for another blog.) Say No rarely, but mean it. Use “I’ll think about it” if you would usually say no and back-down. Demand the use of manners, and don’t do anything for a child who is rude.

7. Eat at least one meal together a day as a family, around a table with no TV, radio or phone on. Have children prepare food with you as much as possible. Even better have a family vegetable garden.

8. Increase the amount of non-electronic play your children do each day. Ideally get rid of all electronic entertainment for children under nine and minimise it for those over nine (say one hour a week for a nine year old, two hours a week for a ten year old etc) . Reduce or remove all extra-curricular activities for under nines, except swimming. Keep the number of activities for over nines to a two or three a week. Play with them  more – but enter their world, this is not a time for teaching or control or boundary setting (apart from basic safety). Have daily rough and tumble, especially for boys, but also for girls. Have weekly tickle fests, but stop when they want to stop. Never, ever carry on when they are over it.

9. Make sure children between 18 months and school age mix more than once a week with other children. This does not mean children should be separated from their mothers – old fashioned coffee-groups are perfect, especially if there are one or two unpleasant children involved.

10. Stop forcing them to cuddle you. They are not there for your personal gratification. Yes, ask. Yes, be available to hug most times. Yes, learn to give great Boring Cuddles. Quick Way to Stop Children Fussing

11. Stop fussing when they hurt themselves or are about to hurt themselves. Yes, you do feel it more than some other parents: it’s all to do with your own wiring. The key is not to be overwhelmed by your emotions. Give Boring Cuddles without speaking, and don’t warn a child they are about to hurt themselves (unless death is going to be a possible outcome) -they may not, and learning to deal with pain, in a healthy way, is a good thing.

12. Remove all cellphones, facebook pages etc. Be firm, don’t give into emotional blackmail. They might say they hate you, underneath they’ll appreciate the break. But have their friends around more often. Have homework dates for older children. Play board games rather than computer games. Put the time in, but be childish – pull pranks, trick them, have them on. For older children, including teens, pull out their old lego and dolls and see what happens.

13. If your child is younger than nine start bed-sharing. No, it’s not bad. Yes, you might have to have sex in the lounge. Yes, it could take up to six months for the kicking to stop. Yes, you might have to avoid some questions. Yes, you will have to keep doing it every night, for years. Yes, there will be times when it’s a pain (vomitting and night-wetting etc). If your child is older than nine, or you just can’t bring yourself to fully bed-share at least stay with them while they go to sleep, and allow them to come into your bed at night if they are worried. For younger teens sit on the end of the bed, and say nothing. Just be there.

Bully-proofed children are self-assured and resilent, they are rarely victims. They make great choices with friends, and they find each other even in the toughest of settings. I am well aware that many of these suggestions go against the grain for many parents: think of it like losing weight – life changes not temporary solutions. Also, expect that the first month will be hard work: you’re all unlearning and relearning, just keep consciously making the changes. Few current bullying programmes work: perhaps, in the end, it’s time to think outside the box.

Yes, you may print this off and pass it around. Just don’t charge money for it and acknowledge where it came from.

(Should you find this article useful, Koha is accepted, $1 is fine. The button is under my blog-roll. :))

Copyright: Karyn Van Der Zwet


About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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10 Responses to Bully Proof your Children

  1. I understand everything, and am with you (although not necessarily doingt it all), but one point taht i am lost- is the bed sharing bit? Please go into more detail here. I am completely lost as to why? We tell stories at night and we lie together, but if my littel girl comes through in teh night- i take her back to bed, sometimes i lie there with her. One of the reasons why is because there really is not enough bed space. The second reason why, is that i wont be able to sleep and nor will my partner. Please go into that.

    • kloppenmum says:

      The science very briefly, is that when we sleep with someone else we have more REM sleep (up to 25% or 26% more than if we sleep alone), which we usually associate with dreaming. During that state we process our emotions from the previous day or days – so the more of it we have, the more of a handle we have on emotional issues. Bed-sharing can take some months to get used to, and the children can kick for up to six months (I think this is part of the emotional processing side, myself) and I understand about the need for space. Some people move their child’s single bed next to theirs to accomodate them. It is a different way of doing things to what many of us are used to, however, most people around the world bed-share, and even in the west 100 years or so ago, it was common. As an alternative, you could crawl in with your daughter for the rest of the night, at times when you think she needs it. If you really are uncomfortable doing it, don’t – but we have found (once we got past the getting used to it phase) it has had a huge positive affect on our children (calmer and more self-assured) and we are all certainly emotionally closer as a family than most. If you do start, you will need to continue for a few years – so seriously, don’t start unless you’re committed to making it work.

  2. Sendie-Lou says:

    Bullying… unfortunately this issue is getting more common, it’s really not a good thing. Thank You for this post. I truly learned a lot from it.

  3. This article makes some incredibly insightful points. It IS worth sharing, and printing for future reference. Thanks!

  4. Sarah says:

    I was quite badly bullied as a child too.
    Very interesting article. Its only now as an adult and a parent that I feel more confident in standing up for myself and what I believe in and being able to do that for my children. I don’t want them to ever go through what I did.

    Loving your blog…

    • kloppenmum says:

      Pleased you’re enjoying the blog, always good to hear some positive feedback. The key for me was the eye-contact. I hadn’t realised how bad mine was until I began to consciously monitor it. I believe, this more than anything, is the sign that bullies look for. I know what you mean about your kids, I don’t want our kids to go through that either – and I would be devastated if they bullied anyone else.

  5. ecoziva says:

    Wow, what a great post – your blog just became a favorite alongside the parenting passageway! 🙂
    BTW, I’m all for bed sharing, although my mother in law keeps wanting us to quit.

    • We’ve had *interesting* comments from both sets of grandparents and some friends and acquaintances about extended bedsharing (the nine-year old and the six-year old have just been evicted in the last few weeks) – but it works for human biology – and I figured I couldn’t argue with that!

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