By Allison Wedell Schumacher
If the events of the last 20 years have shown us anything, it’s that bullying can be traumatic. As a result of being bullied, kids can become withdrawn and depressed, and even harm themselves or others. But being bullied doesn’t have to consign a child to a lifetime of issues. There is life after bullying, and you can help your child find it.
The case I used in my last blog post about bullying was when my daughter was bullied by a boy named Alex in preschool (yes, preschool). It was starting to affect her self-esteem, since she was picking clothes based on whether she thought Alex would like them. In a world where girls have terrible difficulty with body image and self-esteem even when they’re not bullied, I wanted to try to nip that one in the bud.
I did so by communicating with my daughter’s teacher. Once I explained what was going on, Ms. Chloe made it a point to put the two children at different tables and keep an eye on them during free play. Ms. Chloe intervened when necessary and, more importantly, made sure my daughter could play with her friends. (Studies show that having even one friend can mitigate the effects of bullying on a child.)
I did the same, arranging playdates at our and others’ houses outside of school hours. And although I assured my daughter that she could always talk to me about Alex (she did continue to do so occasionally, and at age 11, she still remembers him even though she hasn’t seen him since kindergarten), I tried to help her bounce back by not focusing on him.
For example, when we would pick out her clothes and she would ask, “Do you think Alex will like this outfit?” I would answer, “Do you like it? Is it comfortable? Is it warm enough for today’s weather?” The idea behind the playdates was similar: I was looking to help her establish strong friendships independent of Alex so that she could focus on the positive (my friends like me) instead of the negative (Alex doesn’t like me).
This, of course, isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach—I’m afraid those are a myth of Santa-like proportions—and things get a bit more complicated as children get older. But the concept is the same: Focus on the positive. Most research will tell you that it takes five or six positive comments to counteract one negative remark; direct experience tells me it’s more than that. The point is that, instead of directing negative energy at a negative thing, you direct positive energy at all kinds of positive things—new after-school activities, fun indoor and outdoor activities at home, you name it.
And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record: Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. The actions of one child who bullies don’t have to dictate your child’s future. And you can help him discover life after bullying.
Allison Wedell Schumacher is a writer, editor, and mom whose diverse work focuses on sexual abuse prevention, bullying prevention, social-emotional learning, public safety, and theater/acting. She is the author of Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard (Simon & Schuster, 2004), and her work has been featured here and at babycenter.com, MomsRising.org, and Committee for Children. You can find her on LinkedIn.
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