Bullies can be stopped, but it takes a village. write Alan E. Kazdin and Carlo Rotella on Slate. The common solutions — tell your kid to stand up to the bully, tell your kid to ignore the bully, call the bully’s parents, ask the teacher to intervene — usually don’t work. One kid — already identified as vulnerable — can’t do it alone. They recommend a strategy developed in Norway that engages the whole school community in identifying and suppressing bullying.
There are some useful ideas:
Problem-solve with your child. Problem solving is a more precise term than you might think—a procedure in psychology that has been well studied. It consists of first identifying and stating the problem (“So, Jack is picking on you at recess …”) and then prompting and encouraging the identification of potential strategies or solutions (“So, what are some things you/we might do?”). One reasonable goal would be to identify two or three possible ways of handling the situation or general approaches to the problem. Bear in mind that the objective here is to reduce or eliminate the bully’s opportunities to intimidate your child in a place where no adults are watching—so you can work on doing more to stay within the range of adult supervision, for instance, or to minimize exposure in unsupervised places. For each strategy, identify what its consequences might be. (“OK, one strategy is to go to the teacher. If you went to the teacher, what would happen?”) Talk out each strategy and its potential results. When you have identified two or three, select together which might be the best and discuss why. This trains your child in a critical process as well as helping to identify a realistic solution that your child is likely to buy into, which increases its chance of being effective.
When I was a kid, bullying was a boy thing, though teasing was unisex. It was held down by a common ethic usually expressed as: Pick on someone your own size. It even applied to Carlo, who’d been held back twice and was much bigger than the other fifth graders. But he was clearly unable to fight his own battles, so a bunch of boys went after the kid who’d broken Carlo’s finger. The village failed to beat up the bully, because he pulled a knife in self-defense, leading to a suspension. Nobody picked on Carlo again.