Preparing for School: 4 Strategies to Prevent Bullying

As you ready your child for PreK or Kindergarten, you can’t help but be excited about the opportunity for her to meet new friends, begin her academic journey, and to form new bonds with positive, caring adults outside the family. But it’s also scary. You’re leaving your child in a world that you have no control over. And you’re hoping she has the skills she needs to navigate that world successfully. It doesn’t help that there are real and present dangers that come with a school setting. StopBullying.gov offers a startling statistic: 49% of children in grades 4–12 reported being bullied by another student at school. You can’t control who your child interacts with or whether or not she’ll encounter a bully. But you can prepare her to avoid being a target and to know exactly how to respond if she does encounter bullying.

 

Prepare Your Child for Bullying with These Prevention Strategies!

 

  1. Talk Openly. One of the easiest ways to prevent your child from becoming a target of bullying is simply to talk openly about the subject. Explaining it and giving it a name will help your child identify and avoid it once in a school setting. Share any experiences you have had with bullying. Explain that not all children grow up with caring, loving relationships, and that sometimes those kids turn into bullies in a school environment. 

These talks should leave your child feeling informed, not scared. Let them know that bullying is just something to watch for and report to an adult so that the bully and the bullied can get help. It’s not necessarily a pleasant conversation, but it’s much less pleasant than your child’s first exposure to the subject to be witnessing it first-hand and feeling ashamed or unsure of how to respond.

2. Buddy Up. Encourage your child to use the buddy system at school, as bullies are less likely to target pairs or groups of children. Chances are that within a few weeks of being in school, your child may know which kids seem like possible bullies. Urge your child to buddy up with a friend on the bus, the playground, the hallway, or anywhere the potential bullies might be. And encourage her to return the favor and join any child who is alone in one of these settings.

3. Be Prepared. Once you’ve had open conversations about bullying, it’s time to give your child a specific strategy so he knows exactly how to respond if he encounters bullying. Teach him the SILT strategy. If someone bullies him or someone else, follow these 4 steps:

Say No. Clearly tell the bully to stop. This is difficult in the moment, but it’s important that the child verbally communicates to the bully with a confident and assertive response to the specific incident. If a bully says you’re stupid, say, “No, that’s just not true.” If a bully says you’re ugly, say, “No, I disagree.”

Ignore. Do not react. Bullies thrive on a dramatic reaction. They want to know that they are hurting you. As hard as it is in the moment, act brave. Try your hardest not to cry, wince, argue, or say anything at all.

Leave. Walk away from the situation. Walk with confidence, holding your shoulders back and head high. Don’t look back and don’t look sad or hurt.

Tell an adult you trust. It’s critical to tell an adult immediately. The bully will continue to hurt you or others if she doesn’t get help, so you need to let an adult know.

The SILT strategy is the best way to deal with a bullying situation, but it’s incredibly hard for adults to react this way, much less children. So, practice with your child. Role-play with her. You cannot expect her to respond with confidence in such an emotionally charged situation without practice. It doesn’t have to be weighty and scary. Here’s a light-hearted clip of a 4-year-old exhibiting the SILT strategy in her own way: four-year-old response to bully.

4. Know the Signs. As much as you emphasize the importance of talking, only 20-30% of bullied children actually report the incidents. So, it’s important to know the warning signs. If you child exhibits any of these signs, you’ll want to seek more information:

  • Overly anxious
  • Not eating or sleeping well
  • Not doing things he normally enjoys
  • More easily upset than normal
  • Avoids certain places or situations

 

If you suspect your child might be a target of bullying and might be reluctant to share, you can bring it up in indirect ways. Ask your child if: 

  • The school seems like it is accepting of all children.
  • He thinks a new kid would have trouble at his school.
  • He’s noticed any students being bullied.

 

You’ll want to be on the lookout for any behavior that makes your child feel unsafe and insecure. But you’re not necessarily looking for cuts and bruises. According to StopBullying.gov, the most common types of bullying are verbal and social. Physical bullying happens less often and cyber-bullying even less frequently. No matter what type of bullying children encounter, being aware of the subject and having the strategies to deal with the problem are key to stopping the bullying epidemic. The more children understand why bullies exist and how to respond, the more empowered they will feel to protect themselves and others.

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Terra Tarango
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Terra Tarango is a mom as well as an accomplished executive in the education industry with more than 15 years of experience in educational publishing and services. She currently serves as the Chief Education Officer at the Van Andel Education Institute (VAEI). She is an expert in instructional climate and culture and has devoted her career to helping teachers create learning experiences where curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking thrive.

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