Bully Target?

Q: I’ve heard various approaches on how to respond to a bully who has set his sights on you. Since the problem of bullying persists in our schools, I think that some emphasis should be put on working with children so that they don’t become targets to begin with. I see over and over again that certain children are never bullied, while others always find themselves the victims.

I recall a cartoon I saw once that features a person with a sign on his back reading, “Kick me.” It’s almost as if certain children set themselves up — unknowingly, of course. Most of my children manage to hold their own in stressful social situations, but others somehow miss the boat. Is there something that a parent can do to help create a more resilient child?

A: It is true that certain types of children (and adults) seem to more readily become the scapegoat in given social situations. Their lack of self-confidence is intuitively sensed by others, giving the impression that it is “safe” to antagonize such a non-threatening person. Thus, certain people become targets due to their apparent vulnerability.

A person can develop the scapegoat personality due to having been either neglected or overly indulged as a child. Being neglected obviously causes children to doubt their abilities. As so little attention was given to them, their sense of self has not been strongly defined. Such lack of self-confidence can be sensed by others.

But overly pampered children can also be unaware of their capabilities, as they have rarely been given the chance to deal with challenges and reach their potential. Thus, such children only feel secure when protective adults are with them, whether they be their parents or other adults filling this role.

Thus, it is crucial to analyze a parent’s behavior towards his child. A parent needs to ask himself, “Am I giving my children opportunities to display their abilities and talents, or are they getting lost in the daily activities of life? Or am I so fearful that my children will experience failure that I hesitate to allow them to experiment with new activities?” Either possibility needs to be considered.

Besides working on these crucial attitudes, there are concrete steps that you can take in order to help your children. Speaking to your children’s teachers can be of utmost importance. A teacher can improve your children’s image in class by stressing their strong points or putting them in leadership positions (that they are able to do successfully, of course).

A parent can request that his child join with a classmate (one that would be an appropriate friend for the child) in a class project. If a child is very shy, the external structure of a class project can help her learn to more appropriately socialize with classmates. A parent might suggest to a child to invite one or two of the least non-friendly classmates with him on an outing in order to show him that he can be liked by others.

A parent needs to try to look at his child objectively and see if there are any inappropriate modes of behavior that the child exhibits, such as immature mannerisms, slovenly appearance or any type of self-expression that is negative. Through positive reinforcement, such behavior can be modified.

Star charts can be created and much praise can be given to a child who is attempting to improve. Telling children that you want them to be the best that they can be is a more positive way to approach this subject than saying something like, “I’ve had enough of this behavior.”

If children learn to internalize such positive self-talk at a young age, they will already possess a modicum of self-confidence throughout their developing years. Positive self-talk and positive visualizations of oneself are great building blocks that a parent can teach a child. Parents can explain how these positive thoughts will help them as adults and act as aids in coping with life’s continual challenges.