FAMILY ALMANAC

Dealing with a bully

Posted March 26, 2012, at 4:12 p.m.

Q: My grandson, 6½, is in first grade in Germany, where his parents are working, and he is being bullied. I can even see why he is a target. He is immature, he is quite small, he is extremely bright and he’s not German.

Some of the bigger boys kick him, choke him and knock him down if there is no supervision on the playground. A social worker at the school is helping my grandson deal with this problem and the parents are talking with her, but how can they help their son deal with these bullies? I’m afraid these bullies will make my grandson hate school or turn him into a fearful little boy.

A: Your grandson needs to know that bullies are made, not born; that they try to act stronger than anyone else because life has made them feel so weak and that they look down on others because they are really looking down on themselves.

Your grandson also needs to know that a bully seldom attacks anyone unless he has a small gang to back him up. They willingly echo his words, throw a punch (if he throws one first), keep a watch out for grown-ups and even lie for him — and themselves — if they’re caught because they don’t want their leader to bully them or throw them out of the group.

It’s the bully, however, who decides which child is the most vulnerable, because he likes an easy target. Even a 6-year-old usually doesn’t tell his parents or his teacher that he has been humiliated unless the bullying gets really bad.

Like most bullies, he prefers to harass children at school and usually in places with little or no supervision. Bullying is also more likely to occur if the school is too big for the principal to keep track of everyone, if the teachers don’t respect the children and don’t demand respect either, if the school isn’t a warm and positive place, if the principal doesn’t set clear limits and enforce them and if the school doesn’t have a strong, anti-bullying policy.

Even if the policy is a good one, it doesn’t sound like it is being followed too well at your grandson’s school. To make some changes, the parents should tell the principal how their son is being treated at her school, because she will probably pay more attention to them than she would pay to the social worker.

They also should ask her to send the school’s anti-bullying rules home with each student, to read them aloud at the next parent meeting and to ask the parents to take turns monitoring the playground and the cafeteria from noon to 1 every day because all school playgrounds and cafeterias should be supervised.

The parents can also strengthen their son, both psychologically and physically, if they sign him up for an activity that will help him develop one of his natural talents. The more they encourage his strengths, rather than his weaknesses, the more self-confident he’ll be.

If your grandson focuses on his courage, he’ll always feel the braver and better able to stand up to anyone who tries to bully him.

You can also help your grandson by giving his parents a copy of “The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander” by Barbara Coloroso (HarperCollins; $15).

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com.

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