When my daughter Hayley was in preschool, she was teased because she was the shortest kid in her class. Teasing at a young age is considered to be one of the earliest acts of bullying. While bullying looks different at different ages and stages, generally, this type of behavior begins around age three, with girls being more susceptible to teasing.
A startling 1 in 4 school-aged children report being bullied, according to StopBullying.gov. While bullying can take on many forms (physical, verbal, social, cyber), it is ultimately defined as aggression that is repeated over time and is intended to harm someone.
October is dedicated to preventing childhood bullying with the observance of National Bullying Prevention Month.
When talking to your child about the B word, naturally, it is instinctual to want to confront your child’s bully or speak with their parents. However, it is important to keep a cool and calm demeanor, be patient, and offer comfort and support when talking to your own child. While there is no “one size fits all” approach to having the conversation with your child, here are some guidelines to follow, straight from a parent who’s been there.
1. Tell them they did the right thing.
Telling a parent or other trusted adult about being bullied is the best thing a child can do. Kids are often reluctant to report the behavior because they may feel embarrassed or ashamed. Take a minute to shine the spotlight on your child and praise them for reporting the behavior.
2. Validate their feelings.
Listen to your child, tell them you hear them and that the way they are feeling is completely understandable. Be an active participant in the conversation while also providing a shoulder to cry on.
3. Assure them it isn’t their fault.
There’s still a stigma attached to bullying that somehow a child brought it on themselves. Tell your child that under no circumstances did they choose to be targeted.
4. Remind your child that they are not alone.
Sadly, we live in a world where bullying is prevalent, no matter what age. Were you bullied as a child, or do you have friends or family who went through a similar situation? Articulate those stories to your child so they can see that unfortunately, they are not alone (but by no means does it make bullying right).
There is no “one size fits all” approach to having the conversation with your child, but here are some guidelines to follow, straight from a parent who’s been there.
5. Restore their confidence.
Pick out some of your child’s best qualities and tell them how it makes them special. Is your child the shortest kid in their class? Remind them they can squeeze into the best hide and seek spots. Above all, tell your child that they are loved, worthy and deserving of the best opportunities in life.
6. Teach coping skills.
Empower your child to stand up for themselves, as long as they don’t feel physically threatened. Role play “what if” scenarios so your child feels empowered and confident handling troublesome situations. Reinforce strategies for staying safe, such as staying on school grounds, near adults or in a group of others.
7. Highlight the golden rule.
Use this discussion as an opportunity to reinforce to your child that we should treat others the way we want to be treated. Remind them that everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about. Do they ever notice a classmate sitting alone at lunch? Suggest they show small acts of kindness that can yield big results, like inviting the child to sit with them.
8. Show them how to be an upstander.
Now that your child knows what it feels like to feel bullied, encourage them to stand up for others who may be experiencing bullying by reporting the behavior to a trusted adult when they see it.
9. Keep the lines of communication open.
Schedule an informal “check in” with your child to revisit the topic. Take them out for ice cream, and see how it has been going and if anything has changed.
10. Create a plan of action.
Explore options for intervention strategies by talking to your child about what they want to see happen in the most extreme scenario if the bullying behavior doesn’t stop. Do they want to have a sit down meeting with the child and their parents? Should the school be involved? Gauge your child’s level of comfort in escalating the situation if it can’t be resolved child-to-child.
Being bullied is a traumatic experience for kids (and for their parents!), but with these strategies, we can provide comfort and support when they need it most.