Expert / 12 November, 2018 / My Baba

How to Survive The School Playground Bullies

To mark this week’s national Anti-Bullying Week, we asked the UK’s first Doctor of Happiness Dr Andy Cope to provide us with some handy tips we as parents, can pass on to our little ones. 

No, this is not ‘just another article’ on bullying. Everyone knows it’s horrible to be on the receiving end. Everyone knows that it doesn’t just affect the child, it affects the whole family. Everyone knows that they need to tell someone [a trusted someone]. Every good parent knows that the answer – the only REAL answer – is to support, love and encourage your child.

The solutions are Googleable, so Google them.

This article isn’t about that. It’s about rules. That apply to bullying and life. Before I come to the rules, here’s the science bit…

Bullying in cyberspace

Bullying has migrated from the playground to cyberspace. Yes, kids still say nasty things face to face and, yes, kids still punch each other, but less so. It’s interesting that the adage ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me’ was written way before social media had been invented. Because we all know that words can do a whole wheelbarrow full of mental harm.

As a social scientist I’m fascinated by the fact that bad weighs more than good. We’re expert at spotting bad stuff. Black belt negativity ninjas. We attach more weight and meaning to a criticism than a compliment. That’s why one bad driver ruins your entire commute [your brain conveniently deletes the 442 good ones].

Negativity also tends to linger. Chances are you’re still smarting from an off-the-cuff negative remark that someone once said to you 35 years ago.

Letting go is hard to do, but we all need to learn to do it. In a rough and tumble world, resilience is probably the number 1 trait your children are going to have to master. In short, they are going to have tough times. Yes, all of them! That’s how life is.

If you’ve got a child between 6 and 12, print these rules off and read them as a bedtime story. None of the rules mention bullying. Funny that? Don’t question the rules, they’re like gravity. You don’t need to understand them. They just work.

Cool rules 4 kids

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

Rule One – You will receive a body and a colour

They’re yours for life, so accept them. Look after your body by eating good food (most of the time) and sleeping well (always). Exercise your body every day. It’s the only one you’ll ever have.

Revel in whatever colour you are. Unless you’re green in which case, wrong planet dude!

Rule Two – Love is all around

The world is full of lovely people but there are a few, the haters, who make a lot of noise. Social media makes is easier than ever so spread bad stuff. If someone says something nasty take a step back and think it through. Yes, it’ll hurt. But is it really that bad? Being hated by a hater? It’s what they do. They do it to loads of people. They do it because, deep down, they actually hate themselves.

Rise above it. Stay nice. Yes, even to the haters. I know it’s hard but they actually need to be loved!

Rule Three – You are made of actual magic

You possess what’s called ‘ordinary magic’. It’s not exactly Lumos or Alohomora, but something almost as powerful – it’s your in-built ability to be super-resilient.

Ordinary magic isn’t about forcing yourself to be positive or pretending the negative isn’t there. It’s about allowing yourself to be upset, and bouncing back stronger. We all possess this magic, otherwise known as ‘time’. Time magically changes things. Eventually.

It can help if you retrain your mind to notice good things and focus your attention on them. So noticing that the sun is rising, this brekky cereal is yummy when it’s gone a bit soggy, I’m breathing, my kidneys are working, look at the way the raindrops are running down the window pane, I’m in a supermarket (what an astounding choice of food), I have eyes, isn’t it amazing to live in a society where binmen turn up and takes our rubbish away, my skin is waterproof, I can read and write, I turn my cooker on and gas arrives all the way from near Denmark (how the heck did that happen?), my teacher cares about me, I have a pencil, when I turn a tap on, clean water comes out.

Rule Four – Be kind

Always. It’s a happiness superpower and it’s free.

Rule Five – Be a good friend. To Yourself

Here’s a new word for you; sonder – it means that everyone [and I mean EVERYONE] has the same insecure thoughts as you do. Everyone [and I mean EVERYONE] is riddled with self doubt. Everyone [and I mean EVERYONE] has a nagging inner voice that keeps telling them they’re a bit of an idiot.

Notice the inner critic and start to challenge it. Start to notice when things go well. Recognise when you’ve achieved something. Give yourself a pat on the back. You’ll start to notice that the internal voice is wrong. There’s an awful lot that you do well. You are already a superhero; stop pretending to be normal!

Learn to be your own bestie.

Rule Six – Be a ninja of positivity

Start to notice the many things that could have gone badly, but didn’t. Here’s a question that will scramble your noggin – what hasn’t happened that you didn’t want that you haven’t celebrated?

Here’s my list for today: I woke up and didn’t have toothache. My laptop isn’t broken. I haven’t got measles. My children aren’t poorly. I haven’t just stubbed my toe, we haven’t run out of Cheerios, there hasn’t been an earthquake, when I went to the loo there wasn’t a crocodile in it, and I haven’t been bitten by a zombie.

I mean, what a fabulous day. None of those bad things has happened!

Have a go, it’s fabulous fun. In fact, it’s one of those mental muscles that gets stronger the more you exercise it. Here are your starters…the accident you didn’t have, the power cut that never happened, the headache you didn’t suffer, your kidneys that didn’t stop working, the rain that never came…

Now think of 10. Five each, so adult first, then child, then adult, then child…

Rule Seven – Listen to the right people

Criticism and harsh words can really sting. And there are plenty of people who stand on the edges of life, throwing negativity around.

Never ever become one of the trolls and mud-slingers. If you haven’t got anything nice to say, then keep quiet.

And when it happens to you (which it will) rise above it. The trick is to ignore the criticism, unless it’s delivered by someone you truly respect and care for. And who cares for you too. In which case the criticism will be well intended.

From now on, the only criticism that you will accept is that delivered by those you respect and/or those whose opinion you value. Think about that inner circle of people – there won’t be many. You should be able to write their names in the postage stamp sized box.

Next time someone says something bad, cruel or upsetting, check if their name is in the box. If not, you can ignore the comment because their opinion doesn’t count. If their name is in the box, act on their words. They care about you so take measures to improve yourself.

Rule Eight – Life is a rollercoaster

There are highs and lows. When you’re up, your friends know who you are. When you’re down, you know who your friends are. That’s how it works.

And just because one person doesn’t seem to care for you, doesn’t mean you should forget about everyone else who does. 

Rule Nine – Breathe

My research has uncovered an amazing statistic; something the media fails to report. The biggest killer in the UK, bigger than road accidents, cancer, heart attacks, falling off ladders and tripping over squirrels put together

‘Not breathing’. It’s literally the number one killer in the UK and the biggest cause of death across the world. It’s a scandal. Yet the media fails to report it.

So breathe. And keep breathing. It’s quite important.

If it’s so important, maybe you should know how to do it?

My advice: Spend 3 minutes breathing well, 5 times a day.

Here’s how. Sit with feet on ground and straight back. Wear a small smile (and your clothes, obviously. Meditating while naked still works, but it’s embarrassing if your mum comes in). Close your eyes. It’s quick and easy, just three breaths long. Make them good breaths.

Big slow breath in.

First, breathe out while you consider how you feel right now.

Big slow breath in again.

Second out-breath is gratitude, what have you got to be grateful for right now?

Big slow breath in again.

And your 3rd breath out is how do you want to feel? Consider and choose an attitude that will work for you going forward.

BOOM! You’re back in the game.

Rule Ten – You will forget all these rules at birth

This last rule is a real bummer! You literally forget that love is all around. It slips your mind that there was no crocodile in the toilet. You actually forget how to breathe properly.

Luckily, you have a fabulous family. If someone has taken time to print these rules off and read them to you, they love you. LOADS!

So I’ll add Rule 11 – the only one you’re not allowed to forget… I love you. And I always will.

Night night. Sleep tight.

Dr Andy Cope is a positive psychologist and bestselling author. His latest book Diary of a Brilliant Kid, a personal development book for 8-12s, is available now on Amazon. Find out more at


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