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The Bully Proof Vest
writes, "When kids are bullied, they want nothing more than to make the bullying stop. Their inability to stand up is deeply rooted in their fear for their safety. So how do we bully proof our kids?"

It is alarming to hear in my own office right here in town, stories of bullying from beautiful, intelligent, talented young people. These amazing beings show up often because their parents know something is wrong, often thinking their child is depressed, and often the parents are in the dark about their child's request for counseling. These children have been beaten down by words and acts of aggression perpetrated by individuals and groups alike.

There seems to be no boundaries between these kids where boys are punching girls, girls are verbally assaulting boys and everything in between that you may have a hard time believing if I shared the actual stories with you. I am openly shocked when the kids share what's going on for them because I want them to see how unacceptable and damaging what they are experiencing is. Often it has gone on for so long that they think it's normal and they actually believe things the bullies have told them or construct their own negative beliefs. My job is to advocate for them and to help them advocate for themselves before we can even begin to get at the deeper stuff.

Bullying is any act of verbal, physical or psychological intimidation. The bully's intention is to gain power and to induce fear in their target. Without fear the bully has no power or advantage. Bullies seek kids who lack self confidence, appear depressed or "weak." Bullies exploit weaknesses and break down their targets. Some information out there says to confront the bully or tell them "No." That is easier said than done. I've had kids report being punched during class and punching the bully back only to feel paralyzed to report on it because they would be suspended as well. There is a catch 22 in our schools these days with the zero tolerance policy. Itís great that there is attention and awareness to address these kinds of things but kids often won't react or stand up for themselves for fear of retaliation or school repercussions.

Kids want nothing more than to make the bullying stop even going to the length of suicide. Their inability to stand up is deeply rooted in their fear for their safety. So how do we bully proof our kids?

1. Create your Bully Proof Vest Early: Start early by talking with your child about how to defend themselves, how to respond when people behave badly and how to get adults involved. Discuss scenarios based on what your child talks about, sees on t.v. and other media. Ask them about their ideas of right and wrong, engage them in critical thinking by asking how they would handle a situation. Avoid lecturing or talking at them about it to avoid them tuning out.

2. Martial Arts: I frequently recommend martial arts to parents for several reasons. Martial arts teaches self control (knowing when to react vs. walking away), self confidence (knowing they are capable of defending themselves if they need to) and self respect (knowing they can walk through the world with their shoulders back and held high because they are capable of making good decisions for their life). Martial arts are great for challenging behavior for the same reasons. The effects of martial arts classes are evident pretty quickly.

3. Pay Attention: Are you child's grades dropping? Are they increasingly depressed and withdrawn? Are they making statements about hating their life, wishing they were dead or that no one likes them? Are they frequently making negative statements about themselves? Even in the midst of regular life challenges if you see a dramatic change in your child's behavior dig deeper than what you know is occurring in their life.

4. Advocate for Your Child/Teach Them to Advocate for Themselves: I would rather my child stand up for themselves and be suspended knowing I will support them than them coming home with a broken nose and a broken ego. Let your child know that you will go with them to speak with school authorities and if the response is not acceptable that it will be further pursued outside of the school. You may need to speak to the childís parents, but the results may be disappointing.

5. Electronics: Bullying isn't just kept on campus anymore. Block bullies after printing their communications from phones, social networks, email etc. Have a family agreement that no electronics in the bedroom after 9:00PM. Computer time happens where parents are present. Social networking accounts are monitored. Your child may not share what is happening because they are ashamed. It is your job as a parent to set parameters and expectations around electronics usage for their safety.

Each of these steps sets your child up with a Bully Proof Vest and you can start as young as you want. I started most of these with my son prior to the age of 5 and watched the rewards of it unfold when an older kid punched him and he stood taller and said "Don't punch me again." The kid lunged at him with his fists and my kiddo blocked him without flinching and said "You're just mean" and walked away. For even as young as he is, I am confident that his Bully Proof Vest is solid. How about your child?

Shannon Miles, MFT


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