Eight expert tips for raising bully-proof kids
Stella O'Malley gives eight ways to give your child the tools to navigate the minefield of growing up
1 Keep the channels of communication as open as possible
It is vitally important that you help your children to communicate with you if you are to help them to handle any difficulties they face. Teens and tweens often become quite secretive and so parents might need to improve their communication skills if they are to help their kids. The higher the quality of the question, the higher the quality of the answer you can expect, and so open-ended questions such as: "What do you do at lunch-time?" can lead to further conversation than closed, yes-or-no, questions such as: "Did anybody upset you today?"
2 Explain about group dynamics and encourage self-awareness
There are usually potential ringleaders, sidekicks, targets, bystanders and upstanders in every classroom. The more parents explain to their kids about the dynamics that appear to be unfolding in their classroom, the more able the child will be to anticipate worrying behaviour and head it off at the pass. Sometimes parents, in an understandable bid for high self-esteem, prefer to ignore any weaknesses in their child and over-emphasise their strengths. In the moment, this can feel good and yet a more satisfying long-term and authentic approach will focus on building self-awareness in the child. It's perfectly human to have weaknesses - we can't all be good at everything - and the sooner the child realises that it's okay not to be okay, the sooner they are free to seek support when they need it.
3 Help your child improve their social skills
Some kids need help with their learning while others need help with their social skills. It is more beneficial to the child if the parent can help their child to acknowledge this than to cross their fingers and hope things will improve. Parents can brainstorm with the child about what is working for them and what isn't. Parents can also teach their kids how to use appropriate eye contact, a confident posture and their 'strong voice' when feeling threatened. A person's 'strong voice' is usually a tone lower than their normal voice and it should be a little bit slower and deeper.
4 Build resilience and help develop your child's ability to tolerate distress Resilience is the quality that allows some people to take the hit and come back stronger than ever. If parents can help their children cultivate a positive attitude, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback then their children will learn to pick themselves up when they have been knocked down. This quality comes more naturally to some children than others and lots of patience may be required for some kids, but if parents can help their child cultivate resilience, they will be giving them a gift that helps them throughout their whole life.
5 Consider your child's online behaviour
With the majority of teenage socialising happening online, it is not really good enough anymore for parents to ignore their children's online usage. Many children need some guidance about how to behave online; just as we showed our children to say please and thank you and other social mores, parents also need to discuss with their children what is and what isn't appropriate online behaviour. Some parents find the "trust but verify" approach helpful while others prefer to start out strict and then relinquish control as trust is earned. Parents who ignore the impact of social media will often have serious difficulties understanding the subtleties of any given situation when a problem arises. If the parent has very little knowledge of social media then they can give a likely teenager a few euro so they can be taught the basics of social media.
6 Create a circle of support
If the child is feeling a bit lost or lonely it can be up to the parent to revitalise some old friendships and help create some support for the child because, ultimately, to survive adolescence, each child needs at least one, true, loyal friend. The parent can steer their child towards activities where they're likely to make friends. And so if the teenager is into music, then the parent can buy them tickets to concerts, ensure they take up music lessons or perhaps enrol them on a course in music production. The activity is secondary to whether there are opportunities to socialise however, and instead of allowing the teenager to exist in a vacuum that makes them feel like a social misfit, the child can be given the chance to develop their social abilities with a sympathetic crowd who have similar interests.
7 Use the arts to provide strength and support to your child
Sometimes there is absolutely nothing a parent can say to comfort their child. Thankfully, the arts can always provide relief, inspiration and courage. In my book,
8 Forge meaning
The acclaimed writer Andrew Solomon tells us that "we cannot bear a pointless torment, but we can endure great pain if we believe that it's purposeful". It will be easier for your child to learn to tolerate distress if you can help them find some meaning or purpose in their pain - even the lesson that sometimes people are difficult can help a person make sense out of pain. The important aspect of this is that parents can help their children 'forge meaning' from any situation - the lesson may not be obvious but, with some insight, it can help make them better people and more able for the challenges they will face in life.