NOTE: When Scarlett answers questions from children and tweens, both of our authors (mother and daughter) are speaking as Scarlett. To answer parents’ questions, anti-bullying advocate and speaker Amy Jones Anichini, the mom of our mother/daughter writing team, takes the lead as she does in today’s post.
Remember 5th grader Keith and his mom Susan who asked for advice about how to escape the bully who seems to be everywhere? We had so much to say to this mother and son that we needed 2 blog posts to cover it all. Make sure you read Part 1 of 2: Scarlett’s Response to Keith first. Then, come back here for Part 2 of 2 where I answer Susan’s questions.
Keith’s mom Susan writes:
My son is really struggling with this boy who bullies him, and I need some advice about what to do. As Keith explained, the boy started bullying him last summer when they were in a professional musical theatre show (hiding his props and costume, telling him he had no talent, acting like he was going to hit him when no one was looking, etc.) Then, unbelievably, this boy ended up transferring into Keith’s school and has continued tormenting him. I’ve spoken to the teacher and principal, who are prepared to intervene, but they can’t be present every second of the day to prevent the verbal abuse.
The result is that Keith is miserable: all the things he used to love doing have been ruined by this bully who follows him around and belittles him. Keith feels like he has no places of safety or happiness. There’s nowhere to go to escape this boy. How can I help my son?
Susan, I can completely relate to what you are going through. When I first discovered that my daughter was being bullied, I didn’t know what to do. I desperately wanted to make it stop, but I didn’t know where to begin. You chose a great place to start by getting the teacher and principal involved. While there’s plenty to discuss about the school’s role in stopping bullying, that’s not what I want to focus on with you today.
You need an immediate solution and tools you can use right now to stop your son from being bullied. At the heart of my suggestion is something crucial you said:
The teacher and principal can’t be there every second to prevent the verbal abuse.
So true. Therefore, we need to empower Keith to take back control of his life and happiness. Here’s what I suggest:
1. Revisit the 3 steps of the Baffle That Bully strategy and practice together:
Remember that the goal of Baffle That Bully is to get the bully to decide for themselves to leave Keith alone, because it’s no longer fun to pick on him. The 3 steps will help Keith (a) distract himself from what the bully is doing or saying and (b) distract the bully by responding in a baffling way. So, reread Baffle That Bully either together or separately, and then discuss the 3 steps, practice, and role play.
2. Help Keith escape the bully by changing the way he “sees” the bully:
The reason we want to help Keith do this is because he sees this bully as having lots of power, evidenced by some of the things both you and Keith said such as: all the things Keith used to love doing have been ruined by this boy, and Keith feels like he has no escape from this boy. You have to help Keith change his thoughts about the situation and this boy. You can help psyche Keith into a new mindset so that he no longer feels threatened by the bully.
Choose a Strategy that Works for Keith
The idea of “seeing” the bully in a different way can go in lots of different directions. Use what you know about your child to decide what approach will work the best for his personality. For example:
Does he have lots of empathy for others? Then brainstorm with him about what must be going on in this boy’s life to make him so mean and insensitive. Help him see the bully as someone to feel sorry for rather than someone to be intimidated by.
Does he like to play games and win? Remind him that this boy is playing a mind game with him. Role play with Keith to use the strategy we outline in the book. Help convince Keith that encounters with this boy aren’t personal – they are simply a way to try out what he has learned in Baffle That Bully. Every time the bully is nearby, he should think to himself, “It’s game time, and I’m going to win.”
Is he super-competitive about his performing arts endeavors? Remind him that this boy might very well be jealous, because he views Keith as a threat. Guide him in channeling his feelings into improving his voice, dance, and acting. In the long run, this boy has zero power to take away Keith’s talent or derail his aspirations.
Is he overwhelmed by emotions such as sadness from the months of abuse? Figure out a way to help him take all those feelings and turn them into something empowering, such as feeling assertive or maybe even a little defiant – such as: “There’s no way you get to decide how I feel, bully! Who do you think you are trying to control me? I’m not playing your game anymore.”
A verbal or emotional bully only has the power a target allows them to have. Remind Keith every single day that no one can make him bad unless he allows himself to be feel bad. Other people don’t get to have that kind of power over us.
As parents we are in a unique position to help our children because of our life experience. We know that our children are going to run into rude, inconsiderate, and, yes, even mean people their whole life: they are next to us in traffic, sitting near us at sports events, in line at the grocery store, or maybe even living next door. The key for all of us (as individuals or as parents teaching our kids) is to figure out how to not let other people rattle us. The sooner our children learn strategies to help them cope with people who are unkind or unfair, the better prepared they will be to manage the many inter-personal challenges life might throw their way.
In teaching our children how to handle school bullies today, we are laying the foundation for them to be emotionally intelligent for all the rest of their days.
Amy Jones Anichini
Co-Author of Baffle That Bully, Anti-Bullying Advocate and Speaker
Can we help you with a problem? Scarlett answers questions from kids and tweens, and Amy (click and scroll down for her bio) answers questions from parents. Read Baffle That Bully! and then click here to “Ask Scarlett”