Self-esteem is the first and perhaps most important component in empowering children to handle the bullies and cliques in their lives (see part one of this article for more information about raising your child's self-esteem.) However, children must also have a way to communicate - to stand up for your and their values and to assert themselves in difficult situations. These skills are learned by children through role modeling and by having an open line of communication with your child so that you can teach them how to handle tough situations.
An open line of communication between you and your child is necessary in order for you to impart the information your child may need to handle bullies and cliques. A respectful attitude (see part one) towards your child is the foundation of this openness. In addition, it is important to listen more than talk - even when you want to teach your child something.
Listening means that when your child is communicating about a difficult situation you refrain from giving advice (even though you may have excellent advice to give), stop yourself from interrogating your child about what happened (even though you may be dying to know), and literally keep your mouth closed and your heart open. In the story "The Little Prince" the fox says: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." Listening with our hearts when our children talk to us can help us refrain from appearing to be a "know-it-all" which is off-putting to kids and blocks communication. To paraphrase Jack Petrash in his book "Covering Home": kids are more than willing to take our hands and accompany us on the search for answers - as long as they don't get the impression that we already know all of the answers to begin with. In other words, listening is the process of exploration that we engage in with our children on a daily basis. It is not a tool only for use when a crisis arises, but a daily commitment of time, energy, self-restraint and love. When we listen well, we create children who enjoy talking to us and who are willing to listen to us when we have advice to give.
Advice, however, is a tricky thing. There is a balance you must achieve when giving your child advice so that you do not attempt to take over and fix the problem for him. Although there is usually a strong temptation to rush in and save a child when he is faced with the problems associated with bullies and cliques - for example by immediately calling the other child(ren)'s parents, or meeting with the head of the school or other such adult-driven solutions - this actually disempowers the child and makes him even more vulnerable. This vulnerability can result in him being further picked on by other kids, or it may actually cause him to become part of a clique or a bully himself, simply in order to "fit in."
Empowering a child to handle