The statistics are scary.
The chances of your child being bullied at school range from 25 to 33%.
The likelihood of your teen ending up in an abusive relationship of some kind lies at 33%.
As parents, we can’t stop our kids from coming into contact with bullies and abusers.
But what we CAN do is make sure they’re prepared.
A confident child who’s used to speaking up for herself and asserting her boundaries is an undesirable target for a bully.
It’s hard to hurt someone who doesn’t take your behavior personally.
Abuse-proof kids know that other people’s behavior says more about THEM than it does about their victim.
These kids may still get targeted by an abuser, but they’re much more likely to speak to an adult about it and get help.
So how can you raise a bully-proof child?
It all starts with parenting.
I grew up in an era where shaming kids was just part of parenting.
You didn’t want to ask a dumb question, because you’d get outed for being dumb. “How could you NOT know that? Ha ha ha!!”
You didn’t want to say something stupid, because you’d get outed for being stupid. “Where did you get THAT idea from? That’s not right.”
You didn’t want to do anything wrong, because you’d get outed for being wrong. “Stop that! What WERE you thinking?”
If a parent made their kid feel ashamed for bad behavior, they nipped that badness in the bud. From that moment on, the child felt shame every time she thought of doing that bad thing again. Shame worked. It was like implanting an internal policeman inside your child’s head.
But at what cost?
Shame researcher Brené Brown believes that being shamed actually promotes bad behavior. Why? Because it teaches kids THEY are bad. If you’re already a bad person, there’s no point in trying to be good. Your parents or teachers have already made up their minds about you.
A child who’s been shamed is more likely to believe the bully or abuser who tells her that she’s dumb and no good.
A child who’s been shamed is more likely to take out those feelings of unworthiness by bullying others.
“Shame isn’t a motivator of positive change,” Brown concludes. “Yes, it can be used in the short term to change a behavior, but it’s like hitting a plastic thumbtack with a 100-pound anvil—there are consequences to the crushing.”
Today, parenting experts like Dr. Shefali Tsabary are spreading the message. We’ve got to stop shaming our children. Hashtags like #EndShame and #StopShamingKids are gaining traction.
But stopping the shaming at home is just the beginning.
How can you parent your children in a way that builds their inner confidence, so that they can stand up to verbal abuse?
The Secret to Strong Children
It’s a simple yet profound strategy:
Treat your child the way you want others to treat them.
If you don’t want other people yelling at your child, then don’t yell at your child.
If you don’t want other people making your child feel bad, then don’t make your child feel bad.
Every day in every way, you are teaching your child what is “normal” in relationships.
This is how people treat each other when they live together. This is how people treat each other when they’re mad. This is how people treat each other when things go wrong.
Your child will carry those lessons into his relationships with his peers and, later, his relationships with romantic partners.
And you may be teaching him the wrong lessons without realizing it.
Your child isn’t listening to what you say. All that moralizing and all those great speeches are going in one ear and out the other.
He’s learning from what you DO. How you speak to him. How you treat him. How careful you are when you’re mad or upset with him.
Let Your Child Have Boundaries
We’re not going to be perfect parents.
We’re going to blow our top. We’re going to say things we regret.
But what do we do when we blow our top at another grown-up?
We apologize, of course.
And we can do the same thing for our kids.
We can let them know when our behavior crossed a line.
We can acknowledge that our emotional outburst was scary and made them feel bad.
That’s an incredibly important step in abuse-proofing a child.
Children need to know they have the right to be treated with respect and dignity. Even if their behavior isn’t dignified (rolling around on the grocery store floor screaming), that doesn’t give us the excuse to get down there on the floor and scream with them.
Parenting is one of the toughest jobs around, because it requires us to be a role model 24-7. We can’t throw tantrums. We’ve got to be the ones remaining calm, constructive, and solution-oriented.
And if we can’t—because we’re frazzled and exhausted and overwhelmed—that’s okay. We just have to apologize. We have to acknowledge that WE behaved badly. We have to listen as our child tells us things we don’t want to hear: “You shouted at me. I didn’t like that. You hurt my feelings.”
As we do, we recognize that one day someone ELSE is going to scream and yell at our kid. Someone who isn’t her parent. Someone who has no right to raise his voice to our child.
And this amazing child—who’s been raised to know she is deserving of respectful behavior—is going to confront the bully in the same way she confronted us.
“That’s not okay. You hurt my feelings.”
You have incredible power as a parent. You’re shaping her understanding of how people are supposed to treat each other.
Do it consciously, and you’ll raise a child who’s strong enough to stand up to toxic people.