It’s human nature to want to fit in and be liked by the people around us.
Right from the first day at school, children want – and need – to fit in. As a parent, you will already know if your child stands out from the crowd in a way that unfortunately, may gain a negative reaction from some peers.
Are you worried?
A child may be the target of unkind attention for reasons such as…being physically different from most other same-age peers:-
- being shorter, taller, thinner, fatter, wearing very thick lensed glasses
- having a speech impediment or heavy accent
- being very shy……or being not as socially mature
- being unable to strike up a conversation and make new friends
- not knowing how to listen and follow directions, compromise or share
As unfair as negative attention or bullying may be, children who are different in any way are more likely to receive unwanted and negative attention and need help to learn how to deflect it.
We would all agree that no child should ever have to put up with bullying. This is non negotiable. (See Bullying …and the cut and thrust of the school yard)
However, fitting in to groups at school can be hard as every child is learning to find their place and testing out their power and their social skills – not always in a kind way. It is part of learning and finding oneself.
How to protect your child
The best way to protect all children from teasing and bullying is to build up their social skills, self-confidence, resilience and communication ability.
Children who can verbally respond with confidence, take bullies by surprise. Bullies expect their targets to stay quiet, to look upset and to behave like frightened victims. Articulate children who can quietly but confidently respond to bullies, are no fun for the bullies.
There are strategies parents can use to protect their children from bullying. It may not sound easy and will not be accomplished overnight but is an important part of the journey in childhood that parents help navigate for their children.
- Build your child’s social skills
- Build your child’s self-confidence
- Build your child’s resilience
- Build your child’s communication skills
Build your child’s social skills
Among other things, socially skilled children certainly know…
- how to start a conversation, ask questions, listen to answers and generally charm others
- how to use great manners – ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ are already great friends
- how to use humour well – they can laugh and have fun with others
- how to ‘work’ in a group – allowing others to take a turn and offer their opinions
- how to give and take rather than always wanting their way
- how to lose and win graciously
Parents can help their children to gain all of these important social skills by putting them in situations where they mix with new groups of children as well as familiar groups.
When children clearly don’t have a particular skill, parents can sensitively teach them. “Did you notice when you shared your new toy with the other children how pleased they were? That was such a lovely thing to do.” “Isn’t Sally a great friend for you? She always listens to you and thanks you for helping her.”
Children want to be liked and will pick up on comments that are casually offered by parents. This generally works so much better than a reprimand.
Build your child’s self-confidence
Self-confident children have an invisible barrier which protects them from annoying bullies just as insect repellent protects us from mosquitoes! Help your child find an interest or hobby that will impress or engage peers. Developing a skill outside school is an instant confidence boost. There are many options that are not too costly.
Here are a few quick suggestions…
- local councils or scouts organisations offer judo, kick boxing and other martial arts programs
- school holiday programs often have short courses or workshops in pottery, horse riding, rock climbing, circus skills, music and dance…
- your child could join a group such as a sports club, scouts or cadets
- even staying away from home with grandparents or interstate relatives can increase self-confidence. Flying interstate without mum or dad can give children a huge confidence boost.
Build your child’s resilience
All too often we pick children up as soon as they fall.
Encourage your child to try new skills and take up new opportunities. If success doesn’t come immediately, encourage your child to keep trying.
Praise effort rather than ‘success’ because continuing to try is success! Make sure your child understands that you admire effort and determination as much, if not more, than success.
Build your child’s communication skills
From the moment children can speak, parents should encourage them to join in with family discussions and to offer opinions when appropriate.
Communication is as much about listening as it is about speaking. When children are accustomed to listening to parents and then adding comments, they are learning how to be confident and logical communicators.
This is also a great way to avoid much of the teenage acting out and rebellious behaviour that is so recognisable and so common as children approach adolescence. When children feel that parents do listen to their opinions, they feel more connected to the family and are less likely to completely reject parents and parental opinions when the hormones kick in. Importantly, bullies do not enjoy tackling children who are articulate.