Sorry, Mom and Dad, but your words of praise just don’t mean as much anymore as the child’s peers’ words do.
As a child gets older, he begins to understand that the parent pretty much has to say nice things (you’re biased!) and that what you say doesn’t always match the way the rest of the world sees it. Children count on their peers to give them an honest appraisal of themselves.
You’ll want to help the child cultivate skills that other kids think are special or cool. These can be major talents (like singing, playing a sport, etc.) or little, quirky things. A girl who was teased in the sixth grade learned to make “friendship bracelets,” all the rage at the time. She would give them to kids she liked, and soon, she was taking “orders” for them, even from kids who teased her. Sometimes she worked on them during lunch or recess, but she usually made them at home. Another boy was a very good cartoonist, and he doodled a funny caricature of the teacher one day. A kid sitting next to him noticed it and told him to pass it around at lunchtime. Soon, he was drawing caricatures of anyone who asked for one. Again, this gave him a “cool skill” and made him feel more popular.
Similarly, quirky little skills like juggling, hacky-sacking, or doing impressions can translate to positive attention among peers. And this positive attention, even for something seemingly small, can set the stage for better self-confidence.
How It Plays Out
The specifics of your approach and your plan will differ depending on the context of the bullying behavior. Most incidents occur in predictable places: primarily at school, camp, and sports activities. So let’s first examine your role as a parent and what sorts of bullying lessons you’re teaching your children, then we’ll address the specifics of how to enact a bullyproofing plan based on where the bullying is taking place.