With two boys starting Year 5 and Year 7, the following statistics in particular caught my attention:
- Approximately one in four Year 4 to Year 9 Australian students (27%) reported being bullied every few weeks or more often (considered to be frequent).
- Frequent school bullying was highest among Year 5 (32%) and Year 8 (29%) students.
- 83% of students who bully others online also bully others in person.
- 84% of students who were bullied online were also bullied in person.
- Hurtful teasing was the most prevalent of all bullying behaviours experienced by students, followed by having hurtful lies told about them.
Like most parents, I wish I could protect my kids forever and shield them from hurtful experiences. However, as the prime time for bullying is when kids are not under our supervision, instead we need to equip them with the tools to diffuse and deal with bullying situations effectively before they go too far.
It goes without saying that physical bullying needs to be reported to the relevant authorities straight away. However, verbal bullying can be much more insidious while still causing a lot of harm. It can happen on a regular, if not daily basis, and can wear kids down without them even realising.
Many people suggest not engaging with someone who is a verbal bully, but that can be easier said than done. Others say to give as good as you get, however this gives bullies exactly what they want – a reaction.
Rachel Downie, educator and specialist in bully and self-harm prevention, suggests a different tactic.
As parents one of the things you can do is teach your child how to respond to bullies in a disarming kind of way,” explains Rachel.
In a short video on ParentTV, she provides some excellent examples of how to disarm bullies by distracting them, changing topic or even agreeing with them. These techniques stop a bully’s “script” in its tracks and makes it hard for them to get the reaction they want.
For example, if a bully makes a derogatory comment about someone’s appearance, a disarming tactic could be giving them a compliment in return.
“Yeah, I’m not that happy with my hair cut at the moment. I really like yours though, where did you get it done?”
Or you could simply acknowledge their comment without arguing with them.
“Thanks for your opinion. I’ve got to go now.”
The Bully Vaccine Project agrees with the effectiveness of the disarming technique to shut down bullies. “The way you do this is to stay calm. You have to speak calmly, act calmly and behave in a way that confuses the bully.”
Refuse to play the victim and don’t engage in the fight they had planned in their heads. When they don’t get the reaction they expected, most bullies will be confused and disengage.
As parents we can role play situations with our kids to help them feel comfortable with making these comebacks to bullies. Remember to avoid name-calling or other inflammatory behaviour that may give bullies the reaction they are looking for.
The Bullying. No Way! website has other helpful information on what parents can do to support kids who are being bullied. It also has some useful tips on what students can do if they are the victims of bullying.