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Q. My son, 10, was bullied last year. I didn't find this out until the summer, when he was telling his cousins who were visiting us. He hasn't complained to us about this, and he doesn't seem reluctant to go to school this year. Should I bring it up? Is there anything I should say or do?
A. Yes, bring it up to your son. He needs to know that you're aware of the bullying situation and that you're willing and able to provide protection for him. This protection comes in three forms. You'll want to use them all.
1. Give Him Confidence. Let him know you believe that he already has many skills necessary to combat this bullying. Tell him that in some situations he will be able to manage the bullies all by himself. Make up a bullying scenario, and then ask him what he'd do given the situation. Say, "Son, what would you do if you walked into the bathroom at school and three bullies were in there?" Affirm any skills that you believe viable. If he says he'd turn around and walk out, respond, "Good for you; if you think a situation is unsafe, it's best to get away."
2. Prepare Him for a Confrontation. Quick retorts, spoken with a powerful voice and strong body language work best. Role-play with him, you being the bully, he being himself. Have him practice using sound bites that he might use to curtail these bullies. Fine-tune these lines to fit his particular situation. Some examples:
"Get away. You're mean. Leave me alone." "I may be short, but I'm mighty." "I'm a little chubby, but I'm not fat. No one's perfect." "I'm not stupid. It's mean of you to say so to anyone."
3. Check-In at School. Contact your son's teacher and the school principal if you sense the bullying situation is beyond what your 10-year-old son can manage on his own. The bullying incidents are probably not happening only to your son; there are most likely other victims at their mercy. It's most likely a school problem that school authorities need to address.
Encourage them to enlist the silent majority, kids in school who are neither victims nor bullies, who can step behind your son, face the bullies, and say, "You're being a bully, stop that. At our school, bullying is not allowed."
School administration can make the point to kids that "tattletaling" by the victim and bystanders is expected and rewarded. It's the only way to combat the hurtful bullying epidemic that is raging out-of-control in many schools.
Bullies have a knack for attack, picking victims who are docile, vulnerable, and sensitive. Victims that usually have a close, loving, and protective relationship with their parents.
While you can coach your son to stand up verbally to these bullies, resist encouraging him to physically attack or respond with nasty verbal retorts. Doing so only makes bullies meaner and retaliate, escalating the situation.
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.