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Bully pulpit

Scut Farkas from "A Christmas Story." Biff Tannen from "Back to the Future." Nelson Munce from "The Simpsons." All are comical characters depicting a very serious problem: bullying.

It's an issue that's been around for ages. It's part of our nature, built into us over years of evolution. It comes from the origins of survival. In an instant, you create a hierarchy, taking all power and control from someone else. You fall in line and conform to the rest of the group. But in the animal kingdom, all conflicts are resolved. There is reconciliation and everything goes back to normal. In our society, that immediate ceasefire seems to have been lost as kids are continuously bullied day-to-day. Any child is susceptible to bullying, not just the ones who looked like they rifled through Urkel's closet.

But to get over this problem, we need to understand just what bullying is and how to properly handle it. That starts by scrapping the idea of a bully and his or her victim.

"I don't use the word 'victim' at all," says Dickon Pownall-Gray, founder of the Surviving Bullies Charity. "I use the word 'target'."

When you call someone a target, instead of a victim, you're making it easier to believe the situation can be resolved.

"I don't even think we should be using the word 'bullying'," says Izzy Kalman, creator and director of Bullies to Buddies, Inc. "We should call it 'aggression'."

Even though the academic definition sees bullying as any behavior that can upset anyone else, Kalman thinks it still has a very negative connotation. To him, bullying is the use of fear to force one's will upon another. And unless one child is threatening to pound on another child for their milk money, aggression is a more fitting term. If we look at it this way, we can get a better understanding of we think bullying is.

But thinking rationally might not work when the situation changes and your kid falls victim to a bully.

"It's very painful for a parent to find out their child is being bullied," says Kalman.

Pownall-Gray was beaten up in his younger years and he couldn't come to tell his mother he was bullied so he told her he crashed his bike. When a parent does find out what's happened, a reaction is inevitable. It's how you channel that reaction that is going to help or harm your child. Peeling out of the driveway in your car, heading to the school and demanding retribution from the principal isn't going to make things better. Actually, it will probably make things worse for your little guy or girl by making the bully even angrier with them, making them a bigger target for their aggression. Sure, there are criminal offenses that the authorities need to know about but, more times than not, going to the powers that be will make things worse.

Helping hand

If you can't rant and rave until something gets done, what can you do? Stop being reactive and start being proactive. There are a lot of ways to help your son or daughter with bullying from the comfort of your own home.

"You've got to be their coach," says Pownall-Gray.

You need to stop thinking about the intense anger you feel for a second and focus on the crippling embarrassment your child must feel. You don't want to fight their battle for them. You can give him or her a helping hand but you want your kid to feel the satisfaction of doing something on his or her own. Give them the advice and tools to take care of the problem. No, brass knuckles and mace aren't the answer.

"It's only fun if I get upset," says Kalman. "If I don't get upset, it's no fun."

If a bully calls your child an idiot, there's two ways they can respond. First, then can try to convince the bully they're not by saying things like "Am not!" and "You are, idiot!" The bully will then continue calling them an idiot and nothing will be solved. Or your child can take the second path. When the bully calls them an idiot, they can say something like "I make dumb decisions every day, just like anyone else." See how it makes the bully's job that much more difficult? He ends up looking like the idiot, not your child. Use the technique of role-playing. If you're the victim, they can see the situation from the other side of the field. And, honestly, what kid doesn't want to call their mom or dad an idiot and not get punished?

Bullying, like it or not, isn't going anywhere. Can you think of a single social organization in which bullying or intimidation doesn't occur? You can't escape it. But what you can do is keep your cool and help your child through an embarrassing situation. They'll come out on the other side, after they've taken care of their own problem, life lesson in hand, feeling better about themselves.

Definitely not like an idiot.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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