Every parent wants to know, “how can I keep my child from being bullied?” Bullying is one of those things we never want our kids to experience, but they most likely will at one point or another. And even though we can’t always prevent it, we can safeguard them against the damaging repercussions by doing a few key things. But before we get to that, let’s take a look at some good ole fashioned wisdom from the Andy Griffith Show.
What we can learn from the Andy Griffith Show
Have you ever seen that episode of the Andy Griffith show where Opie encounters a bully on the way to school? Andy gave his son, Opie, 5 cents every day to buy his milk at school because apparently, milk used to only be a nickel. One day, on the way to school, a bully showed up and told Opi that if he doesn’t give up his nickel every day, he’ll punch him in the face. So, Opie gives up his money but realizes he has a problem. How is he going to pay for his milk?
The next day, he asks his Aunt Bee for a nickel. Now that he has one nickel from his dad and one from his aunt, he has two nickels and can supply the bully as well as get milk for himself. Sure enough, the bully shows up and continues to steal his money. The following day, he decides to get the extra nickel from Barney, his Father’s friend, because he doesn’t want his aunt to get suspicious. As Opie’s father, Aunt Bee, and Barney become curious as to why he’s not being honest about needing more money, Barney witnesses the bully in action and lets Opie’s father know what’s going on. Barney is outraged and suggests Andy give Opie some lessons on how to fight back, but Opie’s dad realizes that this isn’t an issue of fighting but rather an issue of the heart — overcoming fear and doing the right thing.
When he went fishing with Opie the next morning, he tells him a story about when he was fishing one day as a youngster and a bully came along and wanted to steal his fishing spot. The bully warned that if he doesn’t move, he will sock him in the eye. Andy, as a young boy, decided to respond with laughter, not moving an inch from his fishing spot, saying, “No way I’m giving up this spot.” Of course, the bully punched him in the eye, but because Andy stood up to him, he never tried to steal his spot again.
Opie heeded his father’s words and stood up to the bully the following day. Of course, he gets punched in the eye but ends up proudly displaying his shiner to his father.
This episode of the Andy Griffith show teaches us parents a few things.
We don’t always need to solve our children’s problems.
In the story, Barney wants to jump in and save Opie, taking matters into his own hands. But in his wisdom, Opie’s father knows this will be a good life lesson and teaches him how to solve his own problems. The outcome of doing this gave Opie newfound confidence in just how capable he was.
On the flip side, I have raised my kids to know they can come to me with anything.
I would hope that in the same situation, my son would feel comfortable telling me what was happening first, and we could come up with a solution together. Given the Andy Griffith Show was filmed when TV was still black and white, we can unravel that culture was a bit different back then, but I would still allow my child to come up with a solution himself first.
Identify with your child, so they know they aren’t alone.
Another thing we can learn from this story comes when Andy indirectly guides Opie by identifying with him, using an experience he had as a child. There is so much power in letting your kids in on the fact that you were once a kid like them, experiencing difficulties just like them. It makes them feel less lonely and more empowered, knowing you were once there. Andy could have said, “Hey, why didn’t tell me what’s been going on with that bully? Why are you letting him push you around? Fight back!” But he doesn’t. He simply tells him what he did in the same situation and leaves it up to Opie to decide how to solve his problem.
So many times, I catch myself trying to solve my child’s problems, over-guiding, over-sharing, and desiring justice for my child. But often, this is not the best way to handle these situations. Our kids need to know they are capable of standing up for themselves, but also in a way that isn’t stooping to the bully’s level.
Along with that, here are some practical ways you can safeguard your child against bullies.
How to Safeguard Your Child Against Bullies at School or Online
Establish an Open and Honest Relationship
I’ve written many articles here helping parents better understand how to deepen their connection and establish a firm foundation in their relationship with their kids. Here are a few quick pointers.
- Don’t overreact or punish your child when they tell you something hard to say
- Ask questions but be discerning of the timing and environment
- Don’t push them for answers
- Listen to understand, not respond
- Connection before correction
- Allow your child the freedom to fail
- Be intentional with your time together – do things they want to do
- Meet them on their level and talk about things they are interested in
- Be kind and gentle in how you speak to them
- Build mutual trust with your child
Here is an article all about how you can better connect with your child emotionally.
When you and your child have open communication, it allows them to feel safe to come to you with hard situations. So if bullying occurs, you will know about it.
I’ll never forget when my son told me someone from his Kindergarten class made fun of his ears. It made me SO angry, but I knew it was one of those things he would just have to experience in life. It’s still something he struggles with about himself to this day, and he’s now a middle schooler.
Words can be so damaging. But we also can’t protect our kids from everything, and those unfortunate situations can become teachable moments in their lives.
In this situation, I explained that hurt people hurt people. If someone is unkind to you, there might be someone being unkind to them.
We also talked about how when someone hurts us, it’s important to forgive, even though they may not ask for forgiveness. This allows you to heal and move forward.
I also reminded him of the TRUTH that his ears aren’t too big, and he is perfect just the way that God made him. Even though this is something I can’t fix for him, I can point him to the truth. The importance comes with open communication. Allow your child to express how they feel about something. To process it. To work through it. That’s healing for them.
Another great way you can better understand your child and the environment they are in at school is to volunteer. Getting to know the teachers and the kids who your child spends time with will help you better understand how you can come alongside your child if bullying occurs.
Be the Home Where Your Kids and Their Friends Want to Hang Out
Allow video games and unhealthy snacks. Be the cool home where all the kids want to come to hang out. The more you can be a part of your child’s world, the better. The more you know their friends, the better.
Teach Them How to Solve Their Own Problems
Like the story above, allow your child opportunities to solve their own problems where it’s appropriate. You can start doing this at a young age. Let’s say your child was unkind to their sibling. “You were unkind, and that’s not okay. How do you think we can solve this problem?” Without forcing your child to do the right thing, they will learn genuine apologies and not just do things because you wish them to. This can build their confidence and learn the life skills to one day stand up to someone who is bullying them.
Monitor Their Devices (Cyberbullying)
I discuss a lot here about keeping your kids safe online. Cyberbullying is just as much of an issue, if not more of an issue, these days. Because there is less accountability online, it could be that “friends” at school are bullying your child on social media but not in person. This is very common among families I’ve coached in the past, even with younger children, and on platforms you wouldn’t expect, like Roblox or Minecraft.
Sometimes, kids become victims to thinking their bully is their friend and get confused about what healthy relationships look like. All the more reason to monitor their devices with a parental control app like Bark or get them a Bark Kid’s Phone which protects them from situations like this.
The reason I love Bark so much for teens is that you can still respect their privacy and freedom and only be alerted to things that could harm your child. The phone looks like any other phone but will keep your kids safe.
Check out the article on how to keep your kids safe online and on social media.
Instill Confidence, Independence, and Be Encouraging
Not only should parents affirm their kids in their strengths, but we should also provide opportunities for them to succeed in something. Let’s say they are struggling with their lego build. Instead of jumping in and saving them, encourage them to try themselves. If they are negatively talking about themself and using phrases like, “I can’t do this.” Remind them how capable they are. Help them turn their phrasing to, “This is hard, but I can try.” When they achieve the task, point out how capable they are. “You are capable of doing hard things! I’m so proud of you.”
Having confidence in their capabilities could help them stand up to a bully one day, knowing they are strong, capable, and shouldn’t accept being pushed around.
Model For Them Healthy Relationships
One of the best ways to teach our children is to be a good example. If they see that you don’t have healthy boundaries with others or see others push you around, this won’t help them in standing up to bullies. People-pleasing is a struggle for many of us. Check out this article on how to keep your child from becoming a people-pleaser.
Teach Them How to be a Good Friend so they Make Quality Friendships
Social skills will be one of the most important things you teach your child. I’ve always told my son, if you want to have good friends, be a good friend. Not only that, but reach out to those who don’t have any friends — to be a friend to the friendless. How amazing would it be if kids were taught at home how to be inclusive? I think this would greatly impact our culture and help stop bullying.
Having good friends at school will make it less likely for them to be bullied as well as build confidence. Teach them what it takes to find good friends.
But don’t ask questions like “Have you made any friends yet?” This could make them feel like something is wrong with them if they haven’t yet. Instead, ask questions like, “Who was kind to you today?” or “Did you meet anyone who likes to draw as well?” Remind them that it takes time to make quality friends. And to look out for the kind kids.
What to do when you find out your child is being bullied
It’s devastating to find out your child is being bullied at school or online. Everything inside you wants justice, and rightly so. But try to remain calm, get all the facts, and remain calm. Try and better understand the situation by asking your child to give you the details. Listen to understand, not respond.
Sometimes kids fear telling their parents because they don’t want to be made fun of more or be called a tattle tale. This is the sad reality of bullies. They will not react well to being called out. So before you try and solve everything, get the facts, consider what your child needs, and go from there. The fact that they’ve told you is HUGE. Be careful with that. Ask them what they think should be done.
Counseling for your child might be needed.
As I can’t give specific guidance for your situation, I think it’s important to protect your child if the bullying continues, even if that means removing them from the environment where they are being mistreated. Bullying is a huge deal for kids. In their immaturity, they could make some pretty rash and life-altering decisions when being bullied.
All the more reason to do whatever you can to keep your child safe.