The latest neuroscience studies show the brain behaves like a muscle. The more it’s exposed to an experience, the more it craves repetition. That’s why once a bully targets your kid, no matter how he or she reacts to the bully, the bullying will intensify. The key to resolution is not to fight back, to reason, or to run, but to break the connection between the bully’s hardwired neurons and your child.
If your tween or teen is getting bullied at school, here are a few tried-and-true suggestions from one who was relentlessly bullied as a child, learned the importance of breaking the connection, and grew up to become a happily married, self-made entrepreneur who sold his first two companies for more than $100 million each.
Being bullied doesn’t mean a kid is bound for future failure and unhappiness. Below are five strategies that can turn the situation around.
Be a moving target.
The bully needs a victim like a quarterback needs a receiver. But if your child isn’t around, the bully will find another target. The bully’s brain seeks a particular response, and if that’s suddenly missing, it will seek that response elsewhere. Your child needs to figure out where the bully crosses her path, and then take a different one, time it differently, or plan to be with a friend. Sit on a different seat on the bus, or get a ride to school. Eat lunch at a different table, or near the lunch monitor. Enroll in an after-school activity. Without getting the regular contact he or she craves, the bully will stop looking for your child before long.
Imagine a better outcome.
When a child is bullied, he feels low, ugly, and isolated. Thoughts turn negative, characterized by resentment, frustration, anger, and hatred. Such negative thinking is harmful to your child’s health and happiness. The child needs to stop being against the bullying and start being for a better outcome. Instead of imagining what torment is coming when he leaves the house in the morning, your child could imagine a great day full of laughter and praise. Your child could imagine his worst tormentor putting an arm around his shoulders and apologizing. All thoughts are energy. Energy and matter are equivalents and interchangeable and have the power to turn into one’s reality, so encourage your child to keep having positive thoughts.
Walk in the bully’s sneakers.
Bullying comes from low self-esteem. The desire to weaken someone else makes the bully feel better about him- or herself. A little insight on your child’s part can go a long way. Ask your child why she thinks the bully is being so mean. Is he or she flunking out? Does the bully have a difficult home life? Was he or she bullied at some point? Understanding as much as she can about the bully will help your child gain more perspective–and feel less victimized and responsible for what is happening.
Wear an invisibility shield.
Top sports stars like baseball pitchers, golfers, and tennis players use a technique whereby they imagine a giant invisibility cloak descending from the sky, impenetrable and covering them completely. They imagine all the hostility of the crowd and the competitors around them bouncing off this shield and turning to dust. In that way they don’t allow their brains to absorb the opposing fans’ negativity. Remind your child that people who have a lot of confidence don’t let others’ negative opinions influence them. The name calling and teasing still goes on, but your child no longer absorbs it.
Challenge the bully’s followers.
Nothing unites more than a common dislike, and bullies often lead a herd of followers like rats following the Pied Piper. Their laughter and jeering as the bully starts to torment feeds the bully’s ego. When your child sees this happening, he can direct attention to the followers. Find a time when one of the followers is alone and ask why he or she is joining in. It’s good to bring a friend as a witness to this conversation. The follower may initially dismiss your child’s challenge in an attempt to maintain dignity, but it’s unlikely that this kid will continue to follow the bully afterward.
Spend time with your child on the Internet searching people who were once bullied at school. Tom Cruise, Oprah Winfrey, and Angelina Jolie are but a few of the famous who suffered. Even someone like Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world’s greatest living explorer, once felt tormented. As a child in an elite boarding school, this “man’s man” struggled at the hands of bullies. What he learned from his experience is valuable for anyone who has been bullied. “Looking back,” he wrote, “I can see that Eton inadvertently built individualism. You either conformed or realized there was no way you could conform. Once you realized you could not conform, it strengthened your ability to be an individual.”
Trevor Blake (http://www.threesimplesteps.com/) avoided his bullies by hiding out in the public library where he grew up. There he discovered the autobiographies of self-made men and women, and realized that they all suffered but found a way out. He used three behaviors he recognized as common to them all and formed three steps to success in business and life. He has donated more than 8,000 copies of his bestselling book, Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life (BenBella, 2012), to libraries across the US, and all the profits go to cancer treatment research and development. His book is #5 on the New York Times Bestseller List. He is currently coproducing a reality TV show about bullying.