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My goal is to provide you with tools that help inform, empower and boost your confidence as a parent so you can make the best decisions possible for you and your family.  Parenting is challenging, but you don’t have to do it alone. I am here to guide you through the 3D Parent approach to parenting, so you can stop struggling and start celebrating all of the time you have with your children.

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How to "Bully-Proof" Your Child

May 19, 2021

*Trigger warning: I will refer to youth suicide and self-harming behaviors as it relates to bullying. Please proceed with caution if talking about this topic is a trigger for you.*

 

“When children feel seen, heard, and accepted for who they are in their parent’s eyes, they won’t believe that they don’t belong or are without value like the bullies want them to believe.”

 

In this episode of The 3D Parent Podcast, I am talking about how you can “bully-proof” your child. It’s no doubt that parents want their children to find acceptance and belonging with their peers. Unfortunately, we know that this is not always the case. As parents, we cannot completely protect our children from bullying, but we can work to boost their self-esteem and help them feel loved and supported so that the words of a bully will not hurt them as much. 

 

We will go over topics such as:

  • What bullying is and isn’t
  • Developing a connection that can cushion your child from the blow of harsh treatment from others
  • Helping your child orient to adult caretakers rather than peers

 

I hope this episode gives you practical ways to support your child. Remember that you cannot protect them from everything, but you can be as supportive and nurturing as you can to help them. 

 


 

Things You Will Learn

 

*Trigger warning: I will refer to youth suicide and self-harming behaviors as it relates to bullying. Please proceed with caution if talking about this topic is a trigger for you.*


[00:13] In this episode, I am talking about how you can “bully-proof” your child. It’s no doubt that parents want their children to find acceptance and belonging with their peers. Unfortunately, we know that this is not always the case. We have all heard horror stories and seen tragic headlines of children being so severely bullied that they took their own lives. This is a worldwide problem, and it has escalated with the rise of technology. As parents, we cannot completely protect our children from bullying, but we can work to boost their self-esteem and help them feel loved and supported so that the words of a bully will not hurt them as much. 


[02:14] I first want to give some clarity around what bullying is. It’s a loaded term, and it’s pretty subjective. What I mean when I refer to it is a pattern of purposefully harming, intimidating, and humiliating another person perceived by the bully as weak or vulnerable. It’s sometimes hard to judge if a situation with children is bullying or not. What it comes down to is if it’s an isolated instance or if it’s a pattern of behaviors. Children will be rude to each other sometimes. While this does need to be addressed, it’s not considered bullying if it’s not a pattern of behaviors. 

[05:28] Before I dive into the strategies for “bully-proofing” your child, I want to share my personal story with bullying. When I was around ten, I switched to a different school. I became aware right away that there was a kind of “pecking order” amongst the girls in my class. And the girl who was at the top of the order, who I will call Liza, was the one who targeted me and picked on me the most. Other students joined in with her because they wanted to remain on her good side. She did all kinds of mean things, including getting students to throw food at me in the cafeteria and lying in attempts to get me in trouble. One of the worst moments was when she cornered me in the bathroom and told me that she had “polled” our class and reported that no one liked me. 

[10:20] Thankfully my experience with bullying didn’t last very long, but I was hurt and deeply affected by it. I also didn’t tell anyone about it for a long time. At the time, my mother was very ill, and I didn’t want my parents to have to worry about me. I thought that I had to be okay or they wouldn’t be able to handle it. I say this because it’s important to recognize that many children won’t report their instances of bullying. It can be hard to tell it’s happening because it occurs when children are with each other and without an authority figure present. And with the rise of technology and social media, it’s even harder to monitor. It can happen online even when children are not physically in the same space. 

[14:05] So what can parents do to help their children? I’m going to share with you five strategies that can help “bully-proof” your children. While you cannot control how other children behave towards them, you can help cultivate their sense of self-worth and belonging. This will help ease the blow of difficult experiences in life. The first strategy I will share is to cultivate and nurture a strong parent-child attachment. This secure attachment with a parent or caretaker creates a figurative “bully-proof vest.” Sending our children out into the world with a deeply rooted and secure attachment to us protects them from a wounding world. This is the deep connection piece of the 3D Parent framework. I highly recommend listening to episode 3 where I dive deep into this topic. 

[17:57] A foundation of a strong attachment provides this protective armor for children. When children feel seen, heard, and accepted for who they are in their parent’s eyes, they won’t believe that they don’t belong or are without value like the bullies want them to believe. Perhaps you are hearing this and you are recognizing that your relationship with your child needs a little work. Maybe you are realizing that you aren’t sending the message to your child that they are significant and valued just as they are. Maybe you are communicating that they are a disappointment or not your ideal child. Remember that if a child’s own parents are not instilling a sense of significance and self-worth in their child, then they just might believe the bully. So continue to nurture your relationship with your child. If you recognize that there is a disconnect or that your attachment is insecure, take the lead in finding ways to repair and strengthen it. 

[21:54] The second strategy is to provide a safe harbor for your children to express and feel all their emotions. The environment you provide for your children should feel safe for them to remove that armor of protection, that “bully-proof” vest, and freely express their emotions. The goal is not to raise our children to be tough, have thick skin, and suck it up or stuff it down. Parents need to make it clear that with them, children are safe to be vulnerable and feel their hurt, pain, and embarrassment. We are there to witness, empathize, and support them through all the wounds they experience. 

[25:42] Children who endure ongoing wounding often lose their feelings for longer stretches as a defense. And to continue to numb themselves during prolonged stretches of wounding, they often turn to numbing behaviors at home. This can include using food, constant technology exposure, or, even more concerning, drugs, alcohol, and self-harm. Another risk for children who numb themselves from vulnerable feelings is that they can become the bullies and prey upon those they consider to be weaker, like a younger sibling, a pet, or younger kids at school. Instead of a numb and hardened heart, children need to have a soft and, what Psychologist, Dr. Neufeld refers to as a “hardy heart.” In an article on this subject, Dr. Deborah MacNamara says that we should welcome children’s expressions of sadness and hurt. This is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of emotional health. Children need to feel safe expressing these emotions to us so that they know they can bounce back from the things in life that hurt them. 

[31:41] The third strategy is to ensure that your child is parent and adult-oriented vs peer-oriented. A peer-oriented child is one who is more attached to their peers than their parents or adults in caretaking positions. These children take their cues from, seek to be like, and are obsessed with pursuing a connection with their peers instead of resting in the care of their parents, teachers, and caregivers. The problem with this is that peers will never be a healthy substitute for the secure attachment of a parent due to the inherent immaturity of children. If children are looking for security in relationships with others, peers are going to come up short repeatedly. If your child is seeking approval from peers and has their self-worth tied to the acceptance of their peers, they are on shaky ground. Peers are not capable of providing the deep and secure attachment that a parent can. 

[35:11] Warning signs of peer orientation include a child who can never get enough time with peers, one who dresses and acts like other children to fit in, and one who struggles to follow the cues and directions of adults because of wanting to impress or connect with peers. To avoid this kind of peer orientation, I’d first recommend the book Hold on to Your Kids by Dr. Gordon Neufeld. He recommends cultivating a strong parent-child attachment, limiting social interaction with peers (especially digitally), and helping your child form a strong sense of identity. Do NOT encourage children to act like others to fit in and avoid overemphasizing the importance of friendships. Healthy peer relationships are important for children, but they cannot replace the interaction and attachment children need with adults. 

[41:13] The fourth strategy is to encourage your child’s passions and interests. This is part of the significant piece of a strong attachment.  As parents, this might mean making peace with the things children are interested in that may not be your ideal. If a child senses your disapproval or disappointment, it will hurt their sense of significance and self-worth. So do the work to keep those thoughts and feelings from your kid and embrace who they are. Children who identify their interests, pursue them, set goals, and achieve are building true self-esteem that is intrinsically motivated, fed from the inside. Kids who are pursuing interests and talents have another layer of protection from bullying. It’s like their self-made bully-proof vest.

[45:11] The other benefit that comes from this strategy is that they may interact with peers who share their interests and passions, and those kids often are separate from their school peers. When children connect through common interests, they typically form more secure and healthy friendships vs. a dynamic build upon an unhealthy hierarchy. Children who may be experiencing bullying or exclusion in one peer setting, such as at school, also have the opportunity to experience a peer setting where they connect, build friendships, and can be themselves without fear of being targeted. This is an important suggestion for all kids, but essential for kids who are experiencing any form of bullying or exclusion from their peers. 

[46:24] My fifth and final strategy is to step in and protect a child when their physical or emotional wellbeing is at risk. It is not necessary to steer or protect our child from every upset in life, including children they may encounter who are inclined to bully them. However, clear patterns of bullying towards a child should not go unreported. Meet with teachers and administrators to alert them if repeated bullying is suspected. Involve your child in creating an action plan of what to do when they experience bullying. If your child shows signs of losing their feelings or becoming peer-oriented to a concerning degree, it might be time to take bolder action and protect your child from an environment that might be too much for them to bear. It might be worth considering home-schooling or changing schools until the emotional wellbeing of your child is restored and/or the security of your parent/child relationship is strengthened.

[49:18] In conclusion, bullies have always been and always will be a part of life. Accepting the reality that we as parents wish we didn’t have to is difficult. But we must recognize the necessity to be proactive in bully proofing our children. Hopefully after this episode, you have some ideas of how to do just that.

 

  


 

Episode Resources

Episode 3: Cultivating a Deep Connection with Our Children

Hardened or Hardy Article

Hold on to Your Kids Book 

Quotes From Episode 69

“When children feel seen, heard, and accepted for who they are in their parent’s eyes, they won’t believe that they don’t belong or are without value like the bullies want them to believe.”

“If a child’s own parents are not instilling a sense of significance and self-worth in their child, then they just might believe the bully. It’s like sending a soldier onto a battlefield with no armor or protection.”

“The goal is not to raise our children to be tough, have thick skin, and suck it up or stuff it down.”

 


 

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About Your Host

I’m Beaven Walters, your host and guide on this crazy and fulfilling journey as a parent.

As a certified parent coach, parent educator and mom of 4 children, I am passionate about helping parents navigate the tough stuff while maintaining dignity, direction and deep connection in your family relationships.  I have spent over 10 years teaching in a variety of educational settings with multiple age groups, and now I am delighted to bring those experiences to you at home. Throughout this podcast, we will cover topics such as tantrums, sibling conflict, screen time overload and transitioning into the teenage years.

My goal is to provide you with tools that help inform, empower and boost your confidence as a parent so you can make the best decisions possible for you and your family.  Parenting is challenging, but you don’t have to do it alone.

I am here to guide you through the 3D Parent approach to parenting, so you can stop struggling and start celebrating all of the time you have with your children.