Have you ever had a hero moment? A snapshot in time where you stood up, faced evil in the eye, and did or said something that changed the course of history? Kids who are coached and trained to face challenges in life have a significantly greater chance of being well-balanced and assertive adults in life. More importantly, they have a chance to make a difference in this hard fact: on average nationwide, around 160,000 children stay home from school on any given day to avoid the pain caused by a bully. (Source: www.homeword.com radio interview, Paul Coughlin: Keys to Raising Secure, Assertive Kids)
This hits home in a visceral way if you have ever personally experienced or heard the words from your own child, “Someone is picking on me at school.” Bullying in our modern day culture has moved from stories of playground scuffles and name calling to a serious problem with sometimes deadly consequences. So how do we respond when we hear those words? I would like to share three simple ideas to prepare us as a parenting community to address the issue of bullying with our children.
1) Have a Purposeful Response. A courageous response to a bully must be purposeful. It involves the whole person. So clear some space in your living room, and role play these actions with your children:
- Telling an adult the story of their bullying experience, and identifying the network of help that is activated when they tell the truth.
- Responding (not reacting) to a bully with their attitudes, their words, and their bodies.
- Telling multiple adults until they find one who acts on their story.
- Telling an adult (I hope you are beginning to see a pattern here).
An accusation of bullying (due to its depth and breadth of reach and possible effects on a child) must be taken seriously and moved on quickly. As adults, we have the opportunity to level the playing field and empower our own children to be part of the solution and not just take a back seat to the conflict. This will help instill in them the moral courage to respond differently should the situation arise again.
2) Check the Other Side of the Coin. Have you raised a victim? It is a tough question we have to ask ourselves. In his excellent book, “No More Jellyfish, Chickens, or Wimps: Raising Secure, Assertive Kids in a Tough World,” Paul Coughlin identifies a number of characteristics associated with children who tend to be victims of bullies.
- They acquiesce too quickly to demands.
- They cry and cower, sometimes making elaborate displays of pain and suffering, fueling further attacks.
- They offer too few healthy boundaries. They refuse to defend themselves, leaving their attackers undeterred to future attacks.
- Their lack of self-defense is noticed and disliked by both aggressive and non-aggressive peers.
- They do not take good-natured teasing well, mistaking it for outright criticism; they bristle easily and are short on humor.
- They often radiate low self-confidence with words, actions, and body language.
- They do not know how to join in and participate with their peers.
- They wear distress on their sleeves—they are not shrewd socially. They do not know how to conceal their feelings when doing so is wise and prudent.
- They often do not engage in sports and do not compete well when they do.
- They are more likely to have stomach pain, bed-wetting lapses, and fatigue. (The pain they feel is not just “in their head.”)
- They are submissive before they are picked on.
Ironically, this can come from a background loaded with good intentions. “Helicopter Parenting” unintentionally filters out the stresses, challenges, risks, and adventures that create a strength of character and moral courage to identify and face the pain and challenge of a bully. Sadly, just changing the environment is not enough. The child must be trained and equipped to not project or display the characteristics of a victim that a bully looks for. When our children tell us about a bully, we must be willing to ask ourselves the difficult question: “Have I contributed to this conflict?”
3) Start Training with Conversation
When my own child described to me what was happening to her when a bully took advantage of the normal hustle and bustle of the classroom and playground, in addition to the practical response listed above, we began to have pointed conversations during times of non-conflict. As parents, my wife and I wanted to add a Christ-fixed compass to her heart as she processed what was going on. Here are three simple questions to ask your children in the car, around the dinner table, or as you wind down from the day.
a) What is more important: to “be polite” or to “do good”? In Ephesians 2:10 and Romans 12:14-21, there are exhortations to “do good.” This is the call to the superhero in your child. Doing good means standing up to a bully, and doing good also means not cultivating a victim’s heart. (Here is a hint from our family life: when we told our daughter to not be afraid of getting in trouble for standing up to a bully, it was like the blinders had been lifted from her eyes. She now knew her feelings and heart did not have to be discarded and could be used to courageously do good).
b) What is justice, and how is it different from revenge? In Micah 6:8, there is an exhortation to live a life of justice. Do you know that God is glorified when we stand up for the oppressed? (Even when it is ourselves!) What tools and people do you have in your life to help you act justly?
c) How do you see yourself: are you a victim or a bully? Why do you think you see yourself like this? What is one thing that your heart wants to see change in you and around you to “do good?”
As we step into the reality of our children’s world, please know that at some point in their lives, they will encounter someone who seeks to take advantage of them by bullying. However, by having a purposeful response, by checking the gauge of their own self perception, and by preparing them for future encounters, we can begin to empower our kids to step into the hero moments that a critical situation like bullying creates.
It is with much gratitude we thank David Ake, Associate Pastor of Junior High Ministries for writing this insightful article for Parentingpathway.org. We hope you find it incredibly beneficial as you approach this topic with your own children. For more resources, we invite you to join our private Facebook page HERE.
David Ake joined Stonebriar in 2007 as pastor of the ministry to seventh- and eighth-graders. He brings with him seven years of experience in youth ministry, a master’s degree in biblical studies from Dallas Theological Seminary, and a passion for teaching teens. He aims to challenge Stonebriar students to love God and people passionately, to learn God’s Word so well that it completely changes their worldview, and to lead for Christ in their homes and schools. David has a rich spiritual heritage. His father, a full-blooded Mayan Indian from the Yucatan Peninsula, and his mother, a native of Chile, were missionaries and church planters along the Texas-Mexico border. David and his siblings were involved in church ministry from their youth. David and his wife, Jamie, have two daughters.