By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC
Part one of this series discussed looking for warning signs, ways to show wisdom and how to provide guidance for bullying that is physical and also verbal in nature. In this edition, I’ll offer some strategies if you decide you want to try some more direct or confrontational approaches with the bully, as well as discussing dealing with psychological forms of bullying.
- If you or your child want to confront the bully more directly here’s a couple suggestions:
- Try a psychological approach something like this: “Are you trying to bullying me? You know, make me feel inferior and embarrassed and as a result you feel superior and gain in popularity or power in the eyes of our peers? You do know that’s out of style and messes you up in your adult years, don’t ya?”
- Here’s another one, pretending an air of emotionally disconnected distain and modeling that actually the victim is the superior one: “So, you’re mocking me, is that it? And I’m now supposed to be upset and wounded and humiliated? Yawn – real mature…If you want to actually relate like normal classmates, you let me know.”
- If these approaches incite the bully to increase their press or turn to physical bullying, again, the psychological approach could be continued: “So, let’s see, since I didn’t cower and cry you’re disappointed and are going to ramp it up rather than move on? How about we just act like two normal classmates instead?” The point here is this appeal to behave like classmates, for them to see the child as a person like them. That could even be incorporated. “Hey look, you do realize that I am a human being just like you. You don’t have to like me, but you need to stop treating me like a punching bag.”
- Or, “I can see you’re now frustrated that I didn’t respond the way you wanted. But if you don’t let it go, I’ll just have to have my parents sue your parents. Bet that will go over well at home.” The objective with something like this is to hopefully get them to pause. If they pause, they’ve likely lost their momentum, and maybe their flaming anger will come down a notch and bring them back into their right mind.
- The point of these approaches is all about preparing your child to be able to “pretend” that they are confident in a situation in which they are fearful. Rehearsing what to say equips the child to be able to pretend. Remind them that they can still enlist the help of adults and you are only a phone call away.
Another type of bullying is more psychological in nature and is more likely to be used by girls rather than boys. As girls mature relationally more quickly than boys, they are more drawn to psychological forms of bullying such as alienation, exclusion, rumor spreading, ganging up to exert control, playing tricks designed to humiliate, or flip flopping – being friends one week and then turning against them the next. These approaches unfortunately fit very well with electronic forms of communication and so girls are prone to cyber bullying approaches as well, something I’ll address in part three of the series.
When I addressed verbal and physical bullying I advised that the approach of ignoring it would be unfruitful and would incite the bully, as it shows them they are getting to you. However, when it comes to these psychological games, there really doesn’t seem to be a productive way to confront the games or the manipulative person. They will lie and deflect and enjoy keeping you guessing and making you think they really are your friend and you just misunderstood. But I’m not recommending just ignoring it either. Actually, what I think you need to help your child to do is to learn how to recognize it and grieve the loss and get away from them. This person or group was not really their friend and that hurts. But don’t get sucked into their tricks in which they intimate that if you do this or change that that they will accept you. Help your child to see that they are being used. Teach them to walk away from these kinds of people with pride that they figured it out and got out from under them. And go find some real friends!
Certainly in both these cases, our kids will be emotionally affected. There are real challenges here to coping with fears and to the development of one’s identity and self esteem. I’ll be addressing the mental health aspects of bullying in part of the series. But let me just say that your kids will need your support, and your strength. Infuse into them that you believe in them and focus on giving acknowledgment for their character qualities more than their achievements. Talk with them in a way that inputs wisdom into them, inviting them to develop eyes to see beyond their current struggles and seek to become a person of virtue. Bullying can break us, or bullying can make us! It’s in how we respond to it.
Next in the series I’ll break down the world of cyber bullying and how to deal with it.
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