What Helps Children Cope with Bullying?
Researchers have singled out some protective factors and strategies that enable children to avoid bullying, to respond in ways that deter future attacks, and to cope so that it doesn’t overwhelm them. Physical strength and intelligence both lend some protection (Smith, Shu, and Madsen, 2001), but there are other qualities that teachers can help children to acquire more easily.
- Self-esteem. Children who feel good about themselves refuse to tolerate bullying and defend themselves assertively and effectively (Egan and Perry, 1998). To build self-esteem, encourage and reinforce children’s strengths—pay attention to their potential, help them develop it, and give them lots of opportunities to feel proud of their accomplishments. It is also helpful to catch them being good.
- Assertiveness skills. When children respond assertively, a child who is bullying will stop or move on. Assertiveness training can also help children gain self-control, confidence, and self-esteem (Sharp and Cowie, 1994), and it isn’t just for those who are harassed. Learning to act assertively can assist the children who take the role of assistants and reinforcers to resist peer pressure and refrain from bullying, and it can encourage the outsiders to act as defenders (Salmivalli, 1999). Changing the attitudes and behavior of her associates may help to change the behavior of the child who bullies.
- Social skills. The ability to share, take turns, be a friend, enter a group, regulate emotion, manage anger, have a sense of humor, and other social skills aid a child in becoming a valued member of a group and provide her with some immunity to bullying (Egan and Perry, 1998; Perry et al., 2001). Social skills training can be helpful for bystanders and children who are victimized, but it is not a panacea. For example, researchers have found that problem solving can deescalate a bullying situation when it’s used well, but children who are bullied seldom possess the social competence and supportive peer group necessary to make this strategy work (Kochenderfer-Ladd and Skinner, 2002; Wilton, Craig, and Pepler, 2000). In addition, there is little evidence that social skills training will help children who bully (Rigby et al., 2004). Although they often cannot imagine what other children are feeling, teaching them empathy is probably ill advised, because you may heighten their already acute social perception and inadvertently boost their bullying skills. Several researchers (Sutton et al., 1999) instead suggest trying to change their positive attitudes toward aggression and focusing on moral issues (Katch, 2003; Thompson and Grace, 2001).
- Cooperation skills. Children who bully and children who are victimized both tend to be less cooperative—children who bully because they have little empathy, and children who are victimized because they’re often introverted and less accepted by their peers (Rigby, 1998). Because children who cooperate with others are happier and more popular, this is a valuable skill for building friendship and preventing bullying. A cooperative social context and techniques such as cooperative learning groups and peer tutoring can foster cooperation.
- A friend. Having a best friend can be a powerful buffer against harassment, reducing the likelihood of victimization (Boivin et al., 2001) and cushioning a child who’s been bullied from emotional and behavioral problems (Hodges et al., 1999). But researchers have also observed that a weak friend who can’t protect a child may actually increase the risk of harassment (Hodges et al., 1999). Teachers can help children make friends by organizing a buddy system where several children voluntarily spend time with a vulnerable child (Pepler et al., 2004) or a single buddy offers protection and models ways to maintain friendship, enter a group, and cope with conflict (Suckling and Temple, 2002). Cooperative learning groups also help to engender friendships.
- An internal locus of control. Thinking that she has some control—as opposed to feeling that something immutable in her character makes her a target—helps a child to look for ways to change and cope. For example, she may be more likely to seek help or use positive self-talk, rather than feeling helpless or depressed (Graham and Juvonen, 2001; Ladd and Ladd, 2001). You can help children to develop self-efficacy by giving them responsibility and opportunities to succeed and by encouraging them to reflect on their own competence (Doll, Song, and Siemers, 2004).
- Telling a teacher. This strategy works well for 5- and 6-year-olds, one study found, whereas walking away and fighting back don’t (Kochenderfer and Ladd, 1997). For older children it is more effective to ignore bullying (Smith et al., 2001). However, it is still important for children of all ages to tell an adult about bullying.
Role-playing and rehearsal are essential for learning them all.
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