Behaviour & Emotions Health & Well-being

How to talk about: Standing up to bullies

HTTA Standing up to bullies

There are loads of articles out there about what to do if your kid is being bullied, or if you discover your kid is a bully. This article is neither of those. This is to help you have a conversation about your family’s specific policies and procedures related to when your child sees someone else being bullied. (Okay, so your family probably doesn’t have a policy and procedures manual. If you do, you probably don’t need this article, or you really need this article.)

Lead by example

Most families have a set of unspoken rules. These are expectations that we assume are well known throughout the house. For example, the dog food is for the dog, and don’t replace the remote control batteries with cheese. One of those unwritten rules will be about what people in your family do when they see someone being picked on.

Most of what we learn in life, we learn by osmosis (you know, diffusion through a semipermeable membrane – but more metaphorically in this case). We learn from the behaviour of those around us. Your child has seen you in tense conflict situations involving the in-laws, drive-thru staff and/or parking wardens. They will have learnt some things about how to handle conflict. That’s why it’s helpful to take those unspoken rules and make them spoken.

Most families have a set of unspoken rules.

How to start talking about it

1. Start with the basics

Get the conversation going by asking your child an open-ended question. You could start with something simple like, “What would you do if you saw someone getting bullied?”

Listen to what they have to say before telling them what you think they should do. Be prepared for a range of responses –

“I’d turn the hose on them like Dad does when the cat gets in a fight.”

“I would probably put it on my Insta story.”

“I’d tell a teacher.”

“I’d video it and use a funny filter to embarrass the bully and hopefully it will go viral.”

2. Help them to stand up

Once you’ve broken the ice, it’s time to give them some things to think about the next time they encounter bullying. Encourage them not to just stand by awkwardly while something hurtful happens, but to act.

You don’t need to instruct your child to run into the midst of a fight waving a flag that says Give peace a chance and singing Imagine by John Lennon. Just encourage them to tell someone, like a teacher or another grown-up, or (if they are comfortable to do so) to say something themselves.

Evil prevails when good men do nothing

Now might be the time to drop a cheesy inspirational quote, because we know you’ve been dying to. Here’s one I’d recommend, “Evil prevails when good men do nothing”.

This inspiring statement isn’t just for drumming up patriotic fervour to gain support for your military’s interventionist foreign policy. Standing up to bullies isn’t easy. It’s scary and takes a lot of courage. But helping others builds character.

3. Drown out the negativity with positivity

Let your child know that they can change the culture around them – bullying doesn’t have to be a part of life if we create an environment where it isn’t welcome. Standing up to bullying doesn’t always mean entering into conflict with the bully. Standing up to bullying can be simply making the playground a place where positivity is cooler than power or intimidation.

How can your child be a part of changing bullying culture where they are? Here are a few ways they can try –

Yelling out things that you like about a person who is being bullied

Bully: “Thomas is dumb”

Your child: “I believe that Thomas is average to above average in intelligence and the remarks that you just made are inaccurate”

Post encouraging comments online

Bully: types “Thomas is dumb"

Your child: changes profile picture to one of Thomas, “Thomas is a legend. In support of Thomas Appreciation Week let’s all do the Thomas Challenge and change our profile pictures to one of Thomas.”

Well, maybe not exactly that but you get what we’re saying.

Ask your child how they could use positivity to stand up to bullies. They’ll likely have some good ideas and some not-so-good ideas, which you can work through together.

Talking to your child about what to do if they see bullying is more than just a one time conversation, so keep talking. And when you see someone being discriminated against, laughed at or picked on, say something for the sake of leading by example. I don’t know about you, but I don’t just want my kids to make their way through the world bully-proof themselves, I want them to make it a better place to be for everyone.

James Beck

James Beck

James Beck is a dynamic and gifted communicator, whose career has seen him speak to over 200,000 people in schools, prisons and workplaces across Aotearoa. Fuelled by a passion to see people reach their full potential, James weaves together insights from his own experience with the latest research findings to deliver relatable, humorous and empowering presentations. When he isn’t working, James is hanging out with his wife, Rebekah, and their three young kids.

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