Inside: As your kids head off for camps and playing around the neighborhood, are they encountering bullies? Here’s how to bully-proof your kids over the summer.
My son was heading into his first basketball game of the summer with a team of his friends and all of a sudden my stomach dropped.
As we turned the corner to enter the gym, there they were.
The three kids who bullied my son on his baseball team last year.
They shattered his confidence.
They came close to breaking his spirit.
And they broke my heart.
Well, actually they made me irrationally angry and my heart broke for my son.
Because he was seeing proof that not everyone in the world is kind.
Not everyone in the world lifts others up.
Not everyone in the world will add value to those around them.
I also teach my kids the #1 thing they can do to prevent bullying when they see it.
But since it was summer I thought we could “rest.”
I was wrong.
I still need to bully-proof him since he was going to see these unkind kids out on the court in a few weeks.
He might run into them at summer camp.
And we could easily see them at the park or the community pool.
I had to bully-proof my kids for the summer months.
What is bullying or bullying behavior?
Before we can bully-proof our kids over the summer, we have to know what bullying is and what it isn’t.
Because here’s the deal.
Kids can be mean and tease and name call.
They can be thoughtless and self-involved and ecocentric and not even realize they’re hurting other kids’ feelings.
Related: You can use this THINK Technique to alleviate hurting people’s feelings on accident with thoughtless comments.
Kids have arguments and fights as they try to navigate through social rules.
That’s not bullying.
When kids do any of these things and are then asked to stop and they stop, it’s not bullying.
But, if they knowingly cause harm and repeat their actions, it escalates to the next level.
So, Bullying is:
- deliberate and
- repeated aggressive actions
- that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power or control (ie: physical strength, popularity or the knowledge of embarrassing information).
And there are four kinds of bullying:
1. Social Bullying or Relational Bullying- social exclusion from a group on purpose, spreading rumors, telling others not to be friends with someone, intentional isolation
2. Verbal Bullying-teasing, taunting, threats to cause harm, name calling
3. Physical Bullying– hitting, kicking, spitting, tripping or pushing, exposure to a known food allergen, breaking or stealing possessions or money
4. Cyber Bullying- spreading rumors online, sharing inappropriate information or pictures online, impersonation, “outing” someone, online threats
What parents need to know about bullies:
Parents also need to understand a few common truths about bullies before they can bully-proof their kids
1. Bullies tend to go for the “easy target” and kids who are different or are perceived to be different.
If your child has special needs, a food allergy, or is a different race/ethnicity, religion, sex, or sexual orientation than the majority of their peers, they may be more likely to be targeted.
Special needs kids are 3x more likely to be bullied than their typical-abled peers.
If your child has very different interests than their peers or “marches to the beat of their own drummer” or is exceptionally gifted or academically behind their peers, they may be targeted.
Because different is “easy” to target.
2. Bullies also tend to focus on kids who are alone, kids who often play by themselves, and kids who don’t have a strong social network. Bullies know 1 on 1 is way easier than 1 on 3.
Encouraging your kids to be around other kids will bully-proof them.
3. Bullying is a learned behavior.
Kids who bully other kids are 99% likely being bullied by someone else…maybe an older sibling, a neighbor or even a parent.
It doesn’t excuse the bullying behavior, but it definitely explains it.
And I’ve partnered with the Bee Friendly Network to help parents:
How to help bully-proof our kids this summer
Whether you’re worried about this upcoming summer or you’re already in the middle of summer, there are ways we can bully-proof our kids and reduce the chances of them being affected by bullies or mean behaviors.
1. Surround them with friends
Friends are a buffer.
A safety net.
They include you so you’re physically and emotionally and socially not alone.
Because there is power in numbers.
Safety in numbers.
So as you send your kiddos off to camp, find a friend to go with them.
A friendly face.
If that’s not an option, on the first day, help your kiddo find another kid their age standing alone.
Introduce them. Play matchmaker if you have to.
Ask the camp director or counselors for help to connect your kiddo to another like-minded camper.
Have your kiddo practice introducing themselves to other kids to make new friends on their own.
Related: How to help kids be a good friend
2. Give counselors/camp staff a heads up about issues
My daughter headed to camp with friends she knew from school.
But unfortunately, these friends weren’t always kind to her.
They sometimes ganged up on her.
They sometimes ran away from her leaving her standing there all alone. And totally confused.
Instead of leaving it to chance, on the first day of camp, I gave the counselors a heads up to keep an eye out for the exclusionary behavior.
I let them know this group of girls sometimes struggled to make good friend choices.
And I asked them to introduce my daughter to other girls in her cabin group so she would have other, kinder friends to turn to in case these school friends repeated the unkind behaviors.
3. Physically separate them from unkind kids
There is no reason to keep your child around bullies or around unkind kids.
Our kids don’t have to take it.
It’s not going to toughen them up or make them stronger.
No one needs that kind of abuse.
Especially if we can prevent it.
So as we sign kids up for camp and sports teams, we often request who we want our kids to be with.
But we can also request for them to not be with certain kids.
On my son’s application for baseball this year, I wrote in that he would not be permitted to play on a team with those three boys who bullied him ever again.
Now I just need to add their names to his next year’s basketball application too.
4. Purposefully seek out relationships with kind kids and invite them over.
When I found out that my daughter was exhibiting some mean girl behaviors, I used my secret weapon: her teacher.
I asked my daughter’s teacher for a list of the kindest kids in her class that we could invite over.
So this summer, those are our go-to playdates.
During camp, you can ask your child’s camp counselors who their kindest kids are and invite those kids over in the afternoons, on weekends, or afterschool in the fall.
Because when we surround our kids with other kind kids, the kind behavior will be contagious.
Our kids will be kinder when they’re around kind kids.
And it automatically removes being around kids who are unkind.
5. Be the fun house where kids want to be
When we make our homes the place of playdates and hangouts, we have the distinct advantages of really knowing our kids’ friends.
This is especially essential when our kids are in middle school and high school, but it’s just as powerful when our kids are younger.
We can listen in on what they play and how they play.
We can hear who leads and who follows.
We’ll know who is generous with turn taking and who just takes.
And when they’re older, we’ll know who’s more-ahem-advanced with their social maturity.
We’ll hear how our kids interact with their peers and ensure it’s positive.
So to make sure our kids and their friends want to be here, we make our house fun.
We get the cool games and the fun toys and the exciting new things.
And we have multiples of everything: multiple helmets, multiple game controllers, and multiple dress-up dresses with matching plastic high-heels.
6. Pour into your kids
We always want to connect with our kids, really take time to get to know them, and have carved out time to spend with them.
During the school year with homework and sports teams and shorter daylight, it can be harder to fit that all in.
So we take advantage during the summer and we purposefully take time to connect with our kids in meaningful ways.
Because when our kids KNOW they are loved and are valued and liked for who they genuinely are, it gives them an emotional buffer if they encounter a bully.
They’ll know the bully’s words aren’t truth.
They will, in essence, be vaccinated from the nastiness bullies toss around so easily.
7. Explore new activities and hobbies
Summer is the perfect time to try out new activities and new hobbies.
These activities will serve two purposes to bully-proof our kids.
One, the activity can help increase their self-confidence.
Self-confidence and feeling good about yourself is key to protecting kids emotionally from bullies.
And, in their new hobby or activity, they will most likely meet new kids who have similar interests.
Surrounding our kids with different kinds of friends in different social circles is also a powerful way to bully-proof kids.
If kids at school are unkind or show bullying behaviors, having kind friends outside of school will prove that not all kids are unkind.
And it shows your child they are worthy of real friends who like them for who they are.
8. Talk about bullying and bullying prevention
When we talk to our kids about bullying and bullying behaviors we can give them the tools they’ll need to recognize bullying and they’ll have strategies to walk away from it.
We’ll let our kids know that bullying happens and it’s not to be tolerated.
Our kids will learn they don’t have to be friends with kids who are unkind to them.
They don’t have to be a doormat.
And they can learn how to be mad without being mean back.
But it starts with talking about bullying.
Grab our Bullying Discussion Starters down below.
9. Read books about bullying prevention
Reading about bullying is another simple way to talk about bullying and ways to prevent it.
It also is a simple way to make sure our kids understand not only is it ok to be different, it’s fantastic to be different.
Because when they find value in their differences and we celebrate them, they won’t be prey to bullies who call them out for their differences.
The bullies will lose their “power.”
Here’s a few of our most favorite bullying prevention books:
10. Help them spread kindness and joy
One last way to bully-proof our kids during the summer months is to help them spread kindness.
We are intentionally raising our kids to be kind.
And one of the many, many reasons we do it is because when we are kind towards others, think of others and lift others up, it increases the dopamine in our bodies.
So being kind actually makes up happier people.
When our kids are happier because they’re focusing on giving to others, they will be bully-proofed.
Related: Summer Kindness Challenge
The bullies will have less power over them. They’ll recognize unkindness and walk away sooner.
And they’ll be so busy spreading kindness, they’ll feel too good about themselves to feel bad about what some kids said to them at the pool or at camp or on the baseball field.
And those bullies who my son will face on the basketball court this summer?
He won’t be around them for long.
He’ll never be alone with them.
He’ll know he’s surrounded by a team of kind friends who will support him.
And he can walk away from them with his head held high and his kind and gentle soul intact.
No matter what they say to him on or off the court.