One of my middle school group members brought up a problem he was having at school with other boys in his class teasing him. Some of his mannerisms were being mocked, and they were purposefully touching his belongings to upset him.
This student is, and always has been, very easily upset. We talked at length that the strengths of his neurodiverse brain also came with vulnerabilities, and that other kids would try to exploit those vulnerabilities.
He had a hard time understanding that he couldn’t just demand that they simply stop and be respectful of him. I explained to him that is what we all wish, but the reality is, human beings, particularly in groups, will be mean to other human beings for self-amusement and gaining social collateral.
He also had a great deal of difficulty understanding that the best way to protect yourself from bullying, since there is no such thing as preventing it, is, if you safely can, to briefly go along with it. Pretend to have a sense of humor about it and to laugh along with them. Poke a joke at yourself. Even just agree, or say, “Yeah, dude. You got me there.” The ability to NOT let other people see that you are upset is the key defense in becoming a non-target.
I tell kids, you know what bullies want?
• They want to upset you.
• They want to make you cry.
• They gain power points (some kids refer to these as XP points) and level up every time they get a big, juicy reaction from you.
So, here’s the strategy. Think of yourself like an orange. Keep your juicy reaction on the inside but show the mean kids a tough or “yeah, whatever,” outer rind. I do not tell kids that that should feel hurt or sad, or upset, but to hold on to show those feelings and talk about it where it is safe to do so.
Becoming upset, crying, and demanding that it stop is how kids become targets. This starts as early as pre-school and kindergarten. Kids will always try to make other kids cry. I know that for many kids, especially my middle schoolers, temporarily going along with it seems counter-intuitive, but it will usually work.
This is one strategy that kids can use on their own. There are many others in Bully Busting & Managing Meanies: Tips for Kids on Handling Conflict. We as adults should not only know what strategies we can teach kids, but also know the signs of a child who is involved in a bullying situation and the steps to take to protect them.