When we think of bullying, we often think of a conflict with only two sides: the bully and the victim.
However, there are often other people who have the power to change what’s occurring: The upstander.
An upstander takes on the role of defender and responsible bystander. Rather than laughing along with the bully, or taking no action, an upstander takes a stand against the bullying behavior. By teaching children how to act on behalf of their peers, we can create a school culture where bullying isn’t tolerated. At the same time, we encourage kids to feel empowered and confident.
There are many ways for kids to put a stop to bullying culture. Use these tips to prepare your child to be a positive force in her school when her peers need it most.
Explain that bullying is when an individual or group of kids repeatedly harms another person, whether it’s done physically (i.e. punching), verbally (i.e. name-calling or intimidation), or socially (i.e. spreading rumors or purposely excluding someone). Ask your child if she’s seen anything at her school that she thinks may be bullying, and how she feels about it.
Explain to your child that if she feels safe enough to tell the bully to stop, she should do so. Do some role playing to get comfortable with the words she can use before the moment arises. She can practice saying phrases like: “Knock that off. How would you feel if someone did this to you?” or “Stop it. What you’re doing isn’t fair.”
You can also practice what your child can tell an adult if she feels uncomfortable or unsafe addressing the bully. Let her know that if she feels she cannot handle the situation alone, she can turn to an adult for help. Ask your child to tell you about an instance of bullying she’s seen at school or in a movie, and have her practice how she would describe it to a teacher or administrator.
Make this a group conversation. Talk to other parents, or have your child talk to her friends about upstanding so they can be brave as a group. It’s easier to take a stand when there are others by your side.
Explain that, as a group, the children can call out a bully when she is being cruel, or redirect the class’s focus to a different activity. For example, if the bully is creating a situation that singles someone out, your child and her friends can suggest participating in a different game.
If your child feels too afraid to speak to the bully when something is happening, explain that approaching the victim afterwards is another way to help. Going up to the child who has been bullied and saying “You don’t deserve that” or “I’m sorry this happened” can make the victim feel like she has an ally. Your child can help even more by being friendly to this person in a public setting, inviting her to play a game or sit with her at lunch, or just walking with her down the hall.
Sometimes, bullying takes the shape of rumors that can damage a victim’s reputation. Teach your child that if she hears gossip about someone, she should stop the message right there. Instead of spreading the rumor, she can make it clear that talking about people behind their backs is mean and damaging.
Your child doesn’t have to wait for bullying to be a good friend to somebody. People accidentally trip up the stairs or drop their lunch tray all the time, and a helping hand is a beacon of hope in those circumstances. If nothing else, encourage your child to try smiling at someone she doesn’t know very well. Everyone has a hard time now and then, and knowing someone has noticed can make the day easier.
Explain to your child that taking a leadership role means it’s your responsibility to make everyone in the group feel welcome. By taking a position as class president, captain of a team, or head of a club, your child has the opportunity to make that group a safe place for all members.
Be curious about people who are different, and your child will learn to be open to them too. Teach your child to ask questions and listen, and help her understand that everybody wants the same things — to feel accepted, to feel good at something, and to feel like they have something to give.
Cyberbullying, or bullying that happens through technology like social media, text, or email, is common among kids and teens. Teach your child that the same rules about compassion and kindness that apply at school should be applied online. Ask her how she would feel if someone posted a rude comment about her, and how she would want her friends to stand up for her in that case.
For more information about keeping your child safe online, take a look at: How to Keep Your Pre-Teen Safe on the Internet
Most schools are happy to accept volunteers or parental input. Get involved in the parent-teacher program. You can go to websites like Bully Bust and The Bully Project for resources on how to start a bullying prevention program at your child’s school.
Standing up to a bully isn’t easy; it takes courage and compassion. But cultivating these important values in your child while she is young will not only set her up for success, but will help make her environment a more supportive place.
**Friday, November 14 is StandUp Day. Want to take the pledge to be an upstander?
10 Ways to Be An Upstander. (2010). Bully Bust. Retrieved from Bully Bust.
Becoming an Upstander. (n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2014, from Together Against Bullying.
Bystanders…Become Upstanders! (2014). STOMP Out Bullying. Retrieved from STOMP Out Bullying.
Covington, M. (2013). Bullying and the Bystander. Youth Equipped to Succeed. Retrieved from Youth Equipped to Succeed.
Parent Handout. (n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2014, from Awesome Upstander.