How to stop a bully

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Trudy Ludwig, the author of "My Secret Bully" (2005, Tricycle Press), spoke to Portland-area parents over the weekend for a workshop on bullying prevention.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Bullying, experts say, comes in many shapes and sizes.
    
"I didn't realize there were so many different areas of harassment," said concerned parent Melanie Paulo, attending a workshop over the weekend. As children carefully deliberate their next move in a game of Twister, their parents learned steps to protect them against some of their biggest enemies: bullies. 

Types of bullying
It has been said that 75 percent of those committing shootings in school over the past 15 years have reported being long-term targets of bullying and harassment. It's an eye-opening statistic for parents, when coupled with so many types of bullying these days.

Child advocate and author Trudy Ludwig said bullying isn't only pushing a kid on the playground. Parents see it in other forms online – such as kids giving each other the silent treatment or controlling other kids. It's a new form nicknamed "cyber-bullying." And children can be just as easily hurt by actions in this virtual word as they can on the playground.

Is your child a target?
A new study from the Rush Neurobehavioral Center in Chicago, after 284 children ages 4 to 16 watch movie clips and look at photos of various emotions, found at least three consistent traits among children who indicated they suffered social rejection:

  • The first trait is a child's inability to read nonverbal cues, like noticing an impatient scowl.
  • The second trait is an inability to understand the cue's social meaning, like a tapped foot meaning impatience.
  • The third trait is a child who cannot come up with options for resolving a social conflict.

If your child is being bullied he or she may not tell you. Consequently, here are the signs to look for:

  • frequent stomach aches or headaches
  • missing school     
  • changes in attitude, like depression.

What can we do?
Child advocate Trudy Ludwig said parents need to give their kids tools and remind them that fighting back is not the answer. Ludwig said one strategy for children is taking the emotion out of it so a bully doesn't get enjoyment from the jab.

"When somebody is saying something hurtful back, its just perpetuating it and it could get worse," Ludwig said.

It turns out that, when words are the weapon, fighting back is not the answer. Parents can walk their children through a number of effective ways to deal with bullying talk or behavior: 

  • Change the subject,
  • Turn the put-down into a compliment or
  • Agree with the bully.

Meanwhile, kids also can try these alternatives:

  • Say 'Stop.' "If someone says 'You're fat,' just look them in the eye and say 'Stop' with confidence," Ludwig said.
  • Ask 'Why?' Come back with 'Why do you think I'm fat?' then, when they answer, ask 'Why?' again. It won't be long, Ludwig said, before the bully will think "'Oh forget it' or walk away," Ludwig said. 
  • Leave. "Kids when they get bullied feel they're glued to the ground," Ludwig said. Parents should remind them that "They have a choice to leave."

Ludwig advises kids should always report the bullying. However, they should be coached on how to take away their emotional response to the situation. Ludwig said this very act can take away the fun for the bully.

"You're ... trying to show that they can make you mad, sad or scared," Ludwig said.

And lastly she says open communication with your kids is a must. Help your child learn the above skills simply by explaining reactions in the same tone you use to explain school work.

Parents such as Melanie Paulo, realizing it won't be easy, hope that making these effort will bring them closer to their goal: a happy and well-adjusted child.