The ISPCC’s Anti-Bullying Awareness Week (4 – 10 March) is currently underway to highlight the issue of bullying and discuss solutions to the problem from the point of view of children, parents, teachers and bystanders. Pat Forde, a martial arts instructor and anti-bullying coach, shares some insights on how to tackle this multifaceted issue… AS SOMEONE WHO deals with bullying in its many different forms all the time, there are many different aspects to my work. Here, I focus on some simple methods to broadly help bully-proof the family rather than focus on dealing with particular bullying examples, including some practical tips for parents which may not have already considered.Extra-curricular activities It might take a little bit of research for a parent or teen to find a local club for a particular interest but, in the Age of Google, no matter how diverse your interests the trusted search engine can come up with something. Pursuing interests outside of school is a great way to build confidence and self-esteem. It is also a great diversion from a school bully and the associated everyday stresses of school and a great way to meet new friends with common interests. If a young person’s life revolves around school and home with little interaction outside of this cycle, a bully can have a lot of influence over their lives and make them miserable. This is a great, simple tactic to make that person less of an influence.“Not being one of the lads or girls” is a problem I commonly hear mentioned by young people. Exclusion is a common factor in bullying cases – but this is something which can be seeded quiet innocently within a group if a young people who does not mix too easily with others and does not involve themselves with the group. Over time this can contribute to them being picked on by others as they are seen as easy targets.Conversation skillsIf others are asking a peer to join in a schoolyard game or activity and the answer they get all the time is “no” then they may eventually stop asking. It good to teach some tactical answers to keep involvement with the group such as: “No, I can’t today but maybe I’ll be able to tomorrow,” or suggest an alternative activity or game.Conversation skills are a valuable tool parents can teach young people and an important factor in friendship-making. It can be a valuable exercise to teach young people how to build a conversation and get the other person talking too – rather than just ending it abruptly. This keeps them involved with others, lets others see they are interested and helps to find people with common interests.As a parent, if your child has some good friends (who you trust are genuine friends) do what you can to make sure they get some time together. This might involve coordinating time together for younger kids or, for teens, allowing them to extend an invitation to your home, giving them a lift to someone’s house, or perhaps seeing that they can do something together such as a cinema trip or going to a sports club or activity class.Bullying diaryIf your kid or teen has experienced repeated problems with individuals, suggest that they write events down soon after they happen. This creates a credible accurate record of issues, avoids the upset and stress of having to recall events.For parents, if you notice concerning behaviour keep a diary of it and – of course – talk about it. They might be acting out of character, making excuses not to go to school, have unexplained bruises, becoming withdrawn after school or perhaps causing trouble uncharacteristically.Perhaps talk about high points and low points of the day. Keeping track of things in this manner will help you if you do have to visit the school.Even if you have minor concerns regarding bullying, still tell the school. If you are not satisfied with an outcome you need to communicate this – but keep your composure. Perhaps you should try deal with a different person within the school such as principal, teachers, year heads, school councillors or pastoral care team members. These people will be in regular contact with the group and can monitor any situations which might be of concern to you.Positive reassuranceTo a bully, people who seem to have low self-esteem and confidence are easy targets. Kids thrive on praise and re-assurance. As a martial arts instructor my basic rule when correcting a young student is “Praise, Correct , Praise”. This can be applied daily by parents in many different ways.Not every young person who joins a sports club or does an activity is going to be good at it or going to be the next ‘big star’. As parents, we need to be careful how we criticise young people’s performance. It is important to note the subtle signs and expressions we use around kids all the time.At sports events, some parents are experts at reassuring their kids – they will smile, look happy, and give a reassuring nod or thumbs up. If a parent throws their eyes up to heaven, uses negative body language towards the child, or even criticises them it can seriously damage confidence and self-esteem.Consider your own behaviourMuch of this piece has focused on preventing young people becoming targets for bullies. But, conversely, there are many different reasons why a child might be wrongly perceived as a bully; parents can have a key role in bullying behaviour.Bullying can be learned behaviour. For example if a parent is aggressive, laughs or passes comments about others or expresses issues with school authorities in front of kids, then this can influence kids’ behaviour. As part of our national efforts to deal with this issue we all need to take responsibility for our actions in front of our children.Pat Forde works nationally with bullying targets, their families and also works with many schools to help teach students , parents and staff deal with bullying. If you are concerned about bullying Pat can be contacted on [email protected], at www.stopthebully.ie, and on Facebook: Stopthebully.ie.