Today’s Topic: Helping Your Child Deal with a Bully
Hi everyone. Welcome to Q&A with Coach Rebecca. I’m Rebecca Smith, founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching. Every week I come online and do a Facebook Live, which then turns into the PerformHappy podcast. You can check us out there at PerformHappy.com. The live videos also hit the blogs here at completeperformancecoaching.com/blog.
Last week I talked about mean moms. This week I’m going to turn it to the mean girls in the gym, or more broadly put, “the bully” on your kid’s sports team or it could even be in school.
A bully can play a big part in your athlete’s sport-confidence. If they have someone on their team who is underhanded, excluding, and not kind, that can really challenge somebody’s confidence.
The Parent’s Role
What do you do if your child is being bullied by someone on their team or in their school? I know what I would want to do. I would want to go and kick some little kids if they were messing with my little girls. Well, that’s probably not the best way to go about it. I’m going to give you some concrete suggestions on what you can do to help your kid through this situation.
Step 1: Set Your Own Emotions Aside
The first thing you want to make sure of is that you’re not letting your own emotions or memories come into place. The second that I think about my girls being bullied in school, I go back to Steven in seventh grade being just awful to me. I have had his words playing in my head for decades. It’s embarrassing how long those words were stuck in my head.
When I think about any kid being bullied, I have my own emotional reaction, which I have to be in charge of as the adult. If you have any of that, which I think anyone who’s ever been a kid probably had some element of “mean kids”, you want to get grounded and not let that take over for you.
Don’t come from a place of, “I want to get back at that little brat, Steven”. You want to be a grounded presence that your kid can depend on and lean on in this unsteady time of their life. You don’t want your emotions flaring. Instead, you want to be able to come into your own body, be in the moment, and not have to get all freaked out with them. That’s not going to actually help. Do your best to not let your mama bear instinct or your past bullying trauma takeover. You’re just going to be you in this moment. You’re the adult, you’re the foundation.
Step 2: Don’t be the Hero
From there, I want you to think about not being the hero. It’s actually better to stand back and not dive right into this situation. I talked to a woman not too long ago who is in charge of helping athletes get into college. She said the number one thing that you can do to help your child get into college is to let them fail.
I’m going to say along those same lines – one of the best things you can do to allow your child to have good relationships and good experiences with other humans is to let them have conflict. I’ve read a lot about siblings because you know, I was not kind to my little brother and I have bad guilt about that. I’m so afraid my girls are going to be at each other’s throats, so I’ve read a lot about it. It’s actually really good practice to be in conflict with your sibling because it’s where you learn how to do conflict. You learn how to resolve conflict in a safe place.
It’s Not Your Job to Fix It
Of course, these other kids are not necessarily a safe place like a sibling is, but it’s part of the journey of growing up and learning how to deal with other humans. It is not your job to fix it. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t help, but by you soothing it or getting in there and taking care of it or fixing the problem, you are nipping it in the bud for them. You’re depriving them of a pretty essential life process that they need to learn. This is something that they’ll need for their entire life, so don’t take that lesson away from them.
Step 3: Get More Information
After you’ve calmed yourself, you have stood back a bit, I want you to get more information. Think of it like this metaphor – if it’s just a little disagreement, that’s a little sniffle, like you might be getting a little sick.
Maybe it’s a conflict where there’s something’s not good, that’s the common cold of youth interaction – they’ll have a little disagreement with one another.
Or is it a one-sided hostility where one person has no power or strength to stand up for themselves? That’s the plague. You don’t want to treat a sniffle like the plague. You don’t want to go, “Oh, these two girls aren’t getting along. Bring in the troops and let’s solve it.” You don’t want to call a meeting and get everyone together and text their moms. You don’t do that even with conflict. Even if they’re having a disagreement and they are not friends right now and there is drama, that’s not your place.
When to Get Involved
If it’s a situation where somebody is being victimized, it’s a one-sided thing where they’re being targeted, that is not okay behavior. That’s when you want to step in.
Step 4: Listen
Make sure you get as much information as possible about the actual magnitude of what’s going on. Even though it may feel massive, you want to take a pulse on it. Then your job is to validate your child’s feelings, not to solve the problem and not to tell her what to do. It’s to listen.
Repeat the Information
She’s going to describe to you what’s going on. You might look at it and go, “Oh my gosh, you’re being such a brat. This is not a big deal,” but that’s not what you’re supposed to say. You might be going, “That horrible kid. I want to kick her butt.” That’s also not useful. Instead, the best thing you can do in that situation is to reflect their words back to them. If she says, “Mom, they wouldn’t let me sit with them at lunch. It was awful and I don’t ever want to go back to school,” you’d say something like, “Oh my gosh, they wouldn’t let you sit with them at lunch. That must feel so horrible. I don’t blame you for never wanting to go back to school.”
Repeat her words back and she will feel heard. In a situation where she’s being excluded or being treated unkindly, all she wants to hear is that you hear her. Your job is to validate her feelings.
You want to avoid saying things like, “It’s fine. This will blow over.” That might seem like the right thing to say, but it’s not, because this is not fine. For her, it feels humongous and awful. If you discount this by saying, “Don’t worry, this will blow over. They’re just jerks. It doesn’t matter,” she’s going to feel like you’re not listening.
She’ll probably say, “Do you not understand that my life feels ruined right now?” Again, you say, “Oh my gosh, you poor thing. It must feel like your life is ruined right now.” It seems simple, right? This is pretty much what I do in my marriage and as a parent. I just repeat the kids’ words back to them, repeat the husband’s words back to him, and they feel heard and everybody’s okay.
Step 5: Ask the Right Questions
Once you’ve defused it by just listening, then you can come in with a little bit of constructive assistance. What you’re doing isn’t solving the problem or just asking good questions, open-ended questions. An example would be, “I see that you’re upset. What’s one thing you could do to make it better?” She may go, “Nothing. I can never make anything better. This is so horrible. I don’t ever want to go back.”
Come back with, “Can you think of just one thing, just a tiny, teeny, teeny little thing that can make it a little bit better?” Try that line of questioning versus, “Well, you obviously have to stand up for yourself.”
Don’t tell them what to do. Just open the door and ask good questions so that they can start problem-solving for themselves. Once you get into that, ask more questions. “If you do this, how do you think it would look? What might you say and who would you need to talk to?” Those would be great questions to ask them.
Step 6: Be a Boring Target
Once you’ve gotten into problem-solving mode, you’ve felt the feelings, now it’s time to be constructive. Here’s where they get their power back. You help them discover anything that they can do to get the target off their back or to be the bigger person. Help them find something they can do differently so they become a really boring target. That’s always what I suggest to the kids – be a boring target. Don’t give them anything that makes them feel like they’re getting a rise out of you.
You can ask them, “What are you doing that’s making you so interesting?” Be very careful in your word choice, but help them to figure out if there is anything they could do that would make them less interesting to the bully that would make it so that they kind of get bored. There’s always something that they may have done that’s made them an attractive person to pick on.
Maybe they don’t have any control in it, but my guess is they do. If they can find something that they’ve done to set it into motion then they can stop doing that, and that’s where they get their power. This is a really good life lesson for when they outgrow school and there are going to be grownups that they’re not going to mesh with.
Step 7: The Buddy System
Finally, help them avoid the toxic situation. If we have determined this is the plague, this is some really bad behavior that you don’t want to deal with, make sure there’s a buddy system in place. You want them to have a friend who is always there when they’re going to be encountering the bully. A bully is not going be as rude when there’s somebody else there. The friend acts as a buffer.
Handling a Bully with Clout
Now, if the bully is a coach, do you need to switch gyms? If the bully is a gym owner or somebody who’s got a lot of clout in this place where you are and it’s a toxic environment, what do you need to do to remove yourself from it? Can you? Maybe all you can do is buddy up and become a boring target. That’s fine if you’ve decided that this is a place where you need to be for your sport goals and it’s feeding her positively in other ways. You can stay, but something I just asked the PerformHappy parents Facebook group was, “When is enough, enough? When is the culture of the sport going to shift enough to where you can expect that an adult will never be the bully to your child?” That is something that I hope for my kids and hope for your kids as well.
So remember, back off. Let them feel heard. Confront respectfully. Last week we talked about how to deal with the bully directly when it’s the mom who’s the bully or the coach or the owner. You can click here if you want some tips on how to actually talk to that bully.