4 Traits That Help Kids Cope With Bullying

Prevent bullying by instilling these characteristics

middle school girl at locker with others in back
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When it comes to coping with bullying, there is no denying that some kids not only handle it better, but also recover faster. But what is it that sets them apart from their peers? According to researchers, there are several characteristics that tend to be present in those who are victimized by bullying, including low self-esteem, lack of assertiveness, difficulty making friends, and poor social skills.

Conversely, when kids have solid self-esteem, are assertive, possess strong social skills, and have healthy friendships, they are not only less likely to be targeted by bullies but also are better equipped to deal with bullying if it does occur. What’s more, kids with these traits will overcome bullying incidents more quickly than those who do not have these protective factors. Here are some tips for instilling these four important qualities in your children.

Teach Assertiveness

When it comes to assertiveness, research has shown that programs teaching assertiveness skills can reduce bullying victimization. But for some kids, being assertive doesn't come naturally. They struggle to stand up for their rights, especially when it comes to bullying or other offensive behavior. 

If you find this is true for your child, start by discussing the difference between being aggressive and being assertive. Explain that aggressive people try to force other people to do what they want.

Meanwhile, assertive people stand up for their rights and are comfortable defending themselves or others against unfairness.

What's more, be sure they know that assertive people calmly state their opinion using a respectful voice and respectful language. While using a strong and confident voice is important, there is no need to yell or scream, especially at bullies. Assertive people also respect the needs and wishes of other people.

Another way to empower your children to be more assertive is to allow them the freedom to make choices. Assure your child that they can say no to any request that makes them uncomfortable.

For example, if they don’t want to go shopping after school because they have a lot of homework, they need to know that they can say, "maybe next time." Or, if they don’t want to go to a party, they should have the freedom to say, "no thank you."

Let your kids know that being assertive also doesn't mean they can’t ask others for help.

When it comes to bullying, everyone needs a little assistance. So, assure your child that asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of. Instead, emphasize that asking for assistance when faced with something challenging and painful like bullying shows they are being wise in addressing a difficult issue.

Facilitate Friendships

Friendships are important for kids, especially when it comes to bullying. Sometimes bullies target kids who lack social connections. But if your children have at least one good friend, they are less likely to be bullied. And, if they are bullied, a friend is more likely to intervene on their behalf than another bystander.

Friends are also crucial at helping children cope with bullying if it does occur. Not only can they encourage your child, but they also help them process the bullying by being there to talk and to listen. 

In fact, research has shown that kids are more likely to discuss bullying with their peers than they are with an adult. So having solid friendships is important not only for preventing bullying, but also for healing from its effects.

As a parent, you should do what you can to help your child develop new friendships and strengthen their existing friendships. For example, allow your children to invite friends over to study or attend a function together. And encourage them to reach out to kids they would like to be friends with.

Kids who are having trouble making friends should be encouraged to get involved in activities they enjoy. Children are more likely to become friends with people who share common interests. 

Remember, healthy friendships guard against bullying. Friendships also have a positive impact on your child’s health and academics, too.

Studies imply that academic achievement also is related to a child’s social interactions and friendships. So do what you can to help your child develop friends. But don’t push popularity. It sends the wrong message and may lead your child to make unhealthy choices. Instead, focus on quality friendships.

Impart Self–Esteem

One of the best things you can do to prevent bullying in your child’s life is to impart self-esteem. Kids with a healthy self-esteem are not only more confident, but also are better equipped to deal with bullying if it does occur.

Additionally, some bullies may think twice before targeting someone who has healthy self-esteem. In fact, multiple studies have found a link between low self-esteem and bullying victimization. For example, a two-year Korean study found that kids with lower levels of self-esteem were more likely to be targeted by bullies.

Stong self-esteem also may help your children have the confidence to say no to peer pressure, especially when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

To foster healthy self-esteem in your kids, be sure you show them unconditional love. By letting them know that you love them no matter what, they will be more likely to accept failure without feeling like a failure. Be sure you also help your children identify their strengths and their weaknesses. Then, give them ideas on how to build on their strengths and improve on their weaknesses.

Another way to boost self-esteem is to get them involved in activities that increase their confidence. For example, if your kids are good runners, encourage them to join a running club or go out for the track team. Meanwhile, for musically inclined kids, enroll them in a music class. The key is to encourage them to build on their strengths.

Enhance Social Skills

According to research, the lack of appropriate social skills is one of the biggest predictors of bullying victimization. For instance, when kids show a lack of social skills or they are socially isolated, this signals to students bullies that these students lack appropriate self-defense strategies, and the bullying is likely to increase.

To keep your child from becoming a target of bullying, begin by working on your child’s ability to initiate and sustain a conversation. When children can hold a conversation, they will be successful in their interpersonal relationships. Having solid relationships keeps them from being socially isolated.

Start by encouraging your child to walk up to others and say "hello." While this can seem scary and daunting, it's a vital skill for your child to learn. Reassure your child that while it may seem hard at first, with practice it will get easier. After your child is comfortable simply saying "hello" to others, begin teaching them how to sustain a conversation.

The easiest way to keep a conversation going is to ask questions.

Asking questions requires your child to be observant and curious about others so that they know what to ask. For example, if your child has math with a potential friend they could ask, "How do you think you did on the test?" Or, if there is a new person at school, they might ask, "What do you think of our school so far?" 

It’s also a good idea to role-play different situations, like what to do at a school dance or how to act at a friend’s house. Stress the importance of being polite, using manners, and being respectful. Likewise, work with your child on how to collaborate with others, as well as how to use good problem-solving skills. Cultivating these traits will help build your child's social skills.

Aside from helping improve your child's ability to navigate social situations, research has shown that teaching your child social skills can reduce the likelihood of bullying victimization. In fact, in one study, sixth grade students in Brazil participated in an eight-week program where they learned civility, emotional expressiveness, problem-solving, friendship skills, assertiveness, and self-control. Afterwards, the researchers noted lower bullying victimization rates among the participants than prior to the study.

What's more, strong social skills can result in greater academic achievement, stronger friendships, and higher self-esteem. So it's important to foster these skills in your kids even if bullying is not a concern.

A Word From Verywell

If your child has recently become a target of bullying, it's never too late to help them develop stronger social and emotional skills. Over time, if you work on their social and friendship-making skills along with teaching assertiveness and instilling self-esteem, they will feel more confident in dealing with difficult situations, including bullying. Plus, these are important life skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

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