Bullyproofing: Four Steps to Build Your Daughter’s Personal Power

The school year is in full swing. Just when you expect your daughter to step off the bus focused on vocabulary tests and long division, it turns out that what truly dominates her mind after a full day of class isn’t rigorous academics, but rather rancorous peer relationships. In the early years of playdates and park trips, you have the bird’s eye opportunity to observe, monitor, and coach your daughter through the delicate waters of human interaction. When the school years begin, however, the majority of her waking hours are spent beyond your watchful eye.
What happens when harmless spats over sharing toys are replaced by cruel cyber-rumors about liking boys? Will your daughter know what to do when pint-sized pushes evolve into painful tween shoves? When the simplicity of forming a friendship just by climbing the same jungle gym is replaced by the intricacy of scaling middle-school social ladders, how can you teach your daughter to stand up to bullies?

  1. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bullying occurs when a person or group repeatedly tries to harm someone who is weaker. Bullies victimize others to gain a sense of power and control, carefully choosing targets who are unlikely (or unable) to fight back. Bully behavior occurs in overt forms, such as hitting, name calling, and teasing as well as through relational aggression, a virulent style of bullying most prevalent among girls, in which relationships are manipulated to settle grudges. This more covert style of rumor spreading and social exclusion is bred by the round-the-clock availability of popular social networking sites, such as MySpace and Twitter. Even when the final school bells rings, many young girls deal with relational aggression 24/7.
  2. How can you prepare your daughter to effectively cope with bullying in all of its forms, at any point in her day? What follows are four simple, but powerful strategies you can teach your daughter to maintain her personal power, even in a difficult peer relationship:
  3. Step 1: Don’t go it alone!
  4. If a bully’s strategy is to make a victim feel alone and powerless, the best counter-strategy for the victim is to reclaim power by ending the isolation. Encourage your daughter to tell an adult when she is being bullied and to enlist that adult’s support.
  5. Sometimes kids feel like adults never do anything—so why even bother to tell them? While there are cases when adults fail to acknowledge the seriousness of a situation, it is more often the case that grown-ups are not aware of what is going on. Bullies use relational aggression to inflict their violence in subtle, socially acceptable ways that tend not to register on an adult’s radar. Make sure your daughter knows that it is her job to create awareness. Be clear in teaching her that telling an adult about bullying is not a mark of cowardice, but rather a bold, powerful move.
  6. If your daughter fears that the bullying will worsen if she “tattles,” help her to realize that this is exactly what the bully wants her to think! Isolation is a bully’s method of intimidation. In fact, it is only by telling an adult that your daughter can begin to re-balance the power dynamic. When a bully realizes that he will not be able to keep a victim isolated—that the victim is indeed strong enough to reach out and connect with others—the bully begins to lose power.
  7. Step 2: Don’t wait!
  8. The longer a bully has power over a victim, the stronger the hold becomes. Oftentimes, bullying begins in a relatively mild form—name calling, teasing, or minor physical aggression. After the bully has tested the waters and confirmed that a victim is not going to fight back, the aggression worsens. Name calling becomes public humiliation. Teasing grows into group ostracism. Pushing and shoving escalates to punches and assault.
  9. Teach your daughter that when she lets bullying behavior go on unchecked, she lets her power slip away steadily. Taking action against the bully—and taking it sooner rather than later—is the best way to gain and retain power.
  10. Step 3: Don’t beat around the bush!
  11. The more a bully thinks he can pick on a victim without a direct response, the more he will do it. That’s why an assertive response is so effective in countering bullying. Assertiveness is the essential middle ground between aggressive comebacks that up the ante for the next go-round, and passive responses that reveal a longing for approval. In the example below, consider which response would be most effective in neutralizing the bully’s power:
  12. Bully: Where’d you get your outfit—the clearance rack?
  13. Response 1: Yeah, my mom made me wear it. I love what you have on, though. You always look so awesome.
  14. Response 2: I got it out of your closet, bitch.
  15. Response 3: Knock it off, Abby.
  16. The first response feeds the bully just what she wants—power! By complimenting Abby after such an obvious put-down, the target hands herself over, saying, “Reject me again, hurt me some more. Whatever you say is OK because I am just so desperate to be liked.”
  17. The second response challenges Abby to escalate her aggression. Snappy, humiliating comebacks invite bullies to keep the conflict going and turn up the heat for the next round.
  18. The third response is assertive, letting Abby know that the victim does not intend to be victimized. It does not seek forgiveness, but does not pose a challenge either. It is simple and unemotional.
  19. Why should you teach your daughter to use responses that are “unemotional?” Indications that a person can be emotionally impacted signal a bully that he will be able to wield power easily. By encouraging your daughter to respond without anger or fear, you teach her how to portray confidence. The bully, in turn, detects less potential for wielding control over her.
  20. Step 4: Don’t mix signals!
  21. When coaching your daughter in the skills of assertive communication, it is helpful to practice using body language to reinforce words. Use role-play to teach these simple, non-verbal strategies that indicate to a bully that your daughter means what she says:
  22. Maintain eye contact
  23. Keep your voice calm and even
  24. Stand an appropriate distance from the bully
  25. Use the bully’s name when speaking to him
  26. Teach your daughter that emotional non-verbals, such as looking away, raising her voice, or shrinking back are all dead giveaways that the bully has gotten to her.
  27. The school year is in full swing, but even when school is out, bully behavior is everywhere. When parents teach their daughters the lifelong skills of assertive communication and assure them that timely requests for adult support are a sign of strength, they fortify their daughters with the kind of personal power that no bully wants to bully.

Please begin the byline with the following:

Signe Whitson, LSW is the author of Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Aged 5-11 to Cope with Bullying. For more ideas on how to bullyproof your kids, please visit her website at www.signewhitson.com
Thinner, Sexier, Hotter: 3 Ways to Help Your Daughter Resist Media Pressures
How many times have you heard your daughter singing along to a popular song on the radio and innocently belting out the kind of lyrics that would otherwise get her sent to her room? In the moment, you believe (desperately want to believe!) that she is unaware of the innuendo and unaffected by its explicit content. But messages embedded in song lyrics, along with video imagery, and advertising influence do have an impact on the ways girls think about themselves and their relationships with others. Without having to resort to a full-on pop music ban or complete shunning of media, you can help your daughters-and other young girls-become aware of media messages that violate values and degrade girls:

Music Lyrics
The next time your daughter is singing along to a catchy tune with questionable lyrics, use the opportunity to ask her questions like:
   What do you like about his song?
   How do you feel when you listen to it?
   What is it about?
   Have you ever watched the music video for this song?
   Did the video storyline match the words?
   How did the video make you feel when you watched it?
   How were the actors/dancers in the video dressed?

Be sure to convey your genuine interest in her music and opinions rather than coming across as an interrogator. You will be walking a fine line between showing interest in her world and “judging” her taste in music. As long as you can resist the urge to lecture, there can be almost limitless potential for talking about pop music and videos of the day, from lead singers to their fashions, to the messages they are trying to convey, and so on. Let your daughter take the lead.

The goal of this conversation is not to condemn your daughter’s taste in music and videos. Rather, asking her to evaluate the lyrics and video images can help her become a more informed consumer and better critical thinker when it comes to awareness of the media influences that surround her on a daily basis.

When young girls get in the habit of asking themselves questions about what they are hearing, seeing, dancing to day after day, and singing out loud, they develop a protective measure of insight and control over ubiquitous media messages — rather than the other way around.

Models of Perfection
The next time you and your daughter are browsing magazines or watching entertainment news on TV, strike up a conversation about how popular advertisements and celebrity photos often bend the truth and trick consumer into seeing things that do not really exist.

Ready for the school year’s first vocabulary pop quiz? Ask your daughter to define the term “airbrushing.” Explain the concept with the emphasis that some media images use airbrushing to trick girls into believing that “perfection” exists. Explain that when girls take in these messages without questioning them, they can begin to feel badly about themselves, worrying that they don’t measure up to impossible standards.

To illustrate, check out the “Dove Evolution” video, available on YouTube or by typing “Dove Campaign for Real Beauty” into an online search engine. This brief clip shows the transformation of an everyday-looking woman into a billboard-ready supermodel. It can be a great discussion tool for showing young girls how it takes an army of professionals to transform one person into “model-readiness.” What’s more, even with a whole team of hair and make-up artists, the model still needs digital alteration before her image is projected to the world.

“Dove Evolution” is a great visual reminder for kids that seeing should never be believing when it comes to the images in the media. The most important takeaway point of this film and mother-daughter discussion is to encourage your child to feel good about exactly who she is and not to compare herself to media images that are neither real nor attainable (without a team of professionals and digital alteration.)

Clothing and Toys
Children and tweens are the target market for airbrushed images and sexualized products of all kinds, everyday. As way to create awareness in your impressionable youngster, set aside some time with your daughter to browse through store catalogs or walk through toy store aisles. Encourage her to take note of the types of outfits and toys that are available for kids her age. Ask her to share her thoughts on which items represent “real” girls engaged in everyday activities vs. which show girls in age-inappropriate outfits, wearing adult make-up, or doing things you couldn’t imagine a girl your child’s age doing. Tally the number of items that represent “real” girls versus those that represent unrealistic products for kids her age. How do the numbers compare? What does this tell her?

When your daughter has this interactive experience of seeing how kid-friendly “kid-products” actually are, she gains practice in becoming an engaged, critical thinker. What’s more, she takes important steps to being an empowered consumer who can resist the pressures of unrealistic imagery.

The ideas included in this article are excerpted from Signe’s upcoming book, Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Cope with Bullying, newly released November 15th!

3 Foundations for Helping Kids Develop Assertive Anger Expression Skills

Have you ever been in a situation where you were so overwhelmed with feelings of anger that you were at a loss for words? You had the presence of mind to know all of the things that you shouldn’t say, but weren’t quite sure how to express your true feelings without damaging your relationship. Adults often struggle with effectively communicating their angry feelings. For children, this challenge is doubly difficult; kids don’t want to get in trouble for expressing themselves aggressively, but they often lack the skills for communicating assertively.

Parents can help their kids develop specific skills for assertive anger expression, beginning with these three primers:

  1. Acknowledge that Anger is OK

From the time they are toddlers, children are often coaxed to deny or quickly dispense of their feelings of anger. Well-intentioned messages like, “Don’t be angry” give kids the message that this most basic of human emotions is something to feel badly about or guilty over. When kids do act out—either through the tantrums of their earliest years or the rebellion of their teenage ones—they are chastened for all of the behaviors that adults do not want them to use.

Rather than hammering away at all of the things kids should not do when it comes to expressing their anger, it is most helpful for parents to show empathy for their child’s emotions experiences and to acknowledge that anger is okay. When kids learn that any way they are feeling is acceptable—and that it is what they do with their feelings (e.g. how they act them out) that counts, they gain skills for effective emotional management and self-control.

  1. Talk it Out

True emotional intelligence and self-control has everything to do with learning how to put feelings into words. You can help your child cope with often-overwhelming feelings by consistently encouraging him to talk about them. It may be helpful to work with your child to develop a list of the most common triggers for his anger. Participate alongside of him, creating your own Anger Triggers list. As the two of you share your lists and compare notes, you gain mutual understanding that can lead to more careful and respectful interactions around “trigger” issues.

Even if your child is not comfortable sharing his feelings in words, encourage him to keep a writing or art journal, to record his thoughts and feelings about everyday situations that create powerful feelings. Keeping a regular journal is a great way for your child to explore and express a range of emotions on a regular basis, which contributes to better self-understanding and emotional maturity.

  1. Be Willing to Receive Anger

A final key in helping your child learn to accept and manage anger well is to be willing to receive your child’s anger. For parents, it can be quite difficult to be on the receiving end of anger—especially when you are not its rightful target. Nonetheless, when adults demonstrate for kids that they are willing to listen to their respectfully-expressed anger, they send the powerful message that the child’s feelings are valid and that assertive anger will be rewarded with the gift of a listening ear and non-punitive response.

Please begin the byline with the following:

Signe Whitson, LSW is the author of How to Be Angry: An Assertive Anger Expression Group Guide for Kids and Teens. This article features excerpts from How to Be Angry.