No parent wants to get THAT call. On the line is another parent or the principal of your child’s school with the news that your son or daughter has threatened another child. Or maybe your kid has started a vicious rumor about a former friend and spread it around the school. Or perhaps, he has relentlessly teased another child and pushed him to the ground. The iterations are endless — and all too common. If you’re blindsided when you get the call, then you haven’t been paying proper attention to your child, because the signs have probably been there. Seeing it coming is no better. You’re the parent; you need to make sure your child knows that this type of behavior is completely unacceptable.
So how do you make sure your teen doesn’t become a bully? Dr. Charles Sophy, Medical Director of The Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) and frequent contributor to the Dr. Phil show, offers these strategies:
1. Start talking. And then don’t stop.
The conversation needs to start well before your child becomes a teen. As soon as your child understands human interaction and right from wrong, it’s time to educate your child on exactly what bullying is and its many forms. This conversation needs to evolve as your child ages. Don’t shy away from the difficult conversations as they grow. Point out bullying as it happens and show them how to stand up to it.
2. Pay attention to SWEEP.
SWEEP (Sleep, Work, Eating, Emotional Expression of Self, Play) is an acronym Dr. Sophy uses to help people remember the areas of life that we all need to work hard to keep balanced. This is true for both adults and children; with kids, you substitute school in for work. As a parent, you need to pay careful attention to your child’s SWEEP. If something is out of line, help them get it back on track.
3. Reinforce the message.
Regularly reinforce to your teen that bullying is unacceptable. This is not a once a year conversation. When the situation presents itself, take it. Ask your teen how they feel about bullying. Ask if they know of any bullies in their class. These questions will not only get a conversation going, but they will also give you a good idea of the classmates you may not want your child hanging out with.
4. Provide a toolkit.
It’s not enough to simply teach your child not to be a bully; give them the tools to fight bullying in a safe way. Here are some examples of how your child can prevent bullying:
- Walk Away: A bully is hungry to steal your emotional power. By disengaging, you send a clear message … you don’t work that way!
- Relentless Reporting: Always report the bully to an appropriate and trusted adult. Consistent reporting allows you to maintain your emotional power yet again.
- Safety First: If you find yourself in an unsafe position, always protect yourself first until you can get away.
- Understand the Bully: Help your child understand what’s really going on inside the bully’s head. Let them know that this behavior has nothing to do with them. Understanding just how unhappy the bully is inside is very powerful.
- Control the Controllable: Many things in life are simply out of your control, and bullies fall into that category. Teach your child that what they can control is how they respond to a bully and how they maintain their emotional power.
5. Be in the know.
Communication with your child is another key. Talk on a daily basis and understand what's going on in his or her life, from academics to social situations. When in doubt, be involved in your child’s life. You can do a whole lot worse than being an involved parent.
The anti-bullying crusade is a long game. While it won’t be won overnight, it is won night in and night out as parents talk with their children about bullying. Never wonder if it’s the right time or place. If it’s a conversation with your teen about standing up to bullying, it’s always right!
Dr. Charles Sophy is a best-selling author, leader in child welfare/foster care administration and member of the Dr. Phil advisory board.