It seems that everyone remembers the bullies from when they were growing up.
I’m sure many of you not only remember their faces, but you probably have a few stories to tell about them regardless of you being a victim or not.
Or maybe you were the perpetrator and now you look back with regret (hopefully) about the things that you said or did.
Memories of being bullied or witnessing others getting picked on stick with us for a long time, if not forever. These types of experiences can have a big impact on the development of a child.
Oftentimes, when a young child witnesses bullying, it’s the first time they’ve ever seen someone not in their family intentionally cause harm to someone else.
For a lot of kids this is when they start to learn about the reality of the world: that not everyone wants the best for them.
It can be hard as a parent when your child opens up to you about their own experiences with bullies, and it seems like this is happening more and more.
Kids have lacked social engagement for over a year, and now that they’re seeing each other on a daily basis it’s leading to increased amounts of bullying. It’st almost like they’ve forgotten how to get along and interact with others.
If you suspect your child may be dealing with bullies or your child has tried having a conversation with you about their experiences there are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Listen and Express Gratitude
Let your child know it’s okay that they’ve told you. Oftentimes when someone is being bullied they have feelings of shame because they think it’s their fault. They may even be embarrassed because they thought they’d never be the one to get picked on.
Help your child navigate these feelings and continually express your gratitude that they feel comfortable enough to open up to you about it.
It’s not the easiest thing to hear that your child is getting picked on, but in the moment it’s important to focus on their experience rather than your own anger/frustration.
Expressing too much of your emotions while they’re trying to navigate their own feelings can undermine what they’re going through, and make them feel like they’re not being heard.
2. Ask For Their Opinion
Every parent has a different way of handling being bullied. Some want their child to stick up to the bully, some want them to stay quiet and do nothing, and others want to go directly to the school right away.
I can’t tell you what’s best for your child’s situation, but I will say it can be helpful to see what they think is the best way to handle it.
Of course that doesn’t mean that what they say will be the final answer, but giving them a sense of ownership in their bullying journey can help build confidence in their path moving forward. It can also help give you a sense of where their head’s at.
Do they want to stay quiet and do nothing because they think it will stop? Or are they terrified of this person?
Do they want to stand up to the bully because they’re feeling confident? Or has this been going on so long that their anger has taken over?
Asking about why they want to take the steps they’ve decided can help you dive deeper into the situation, even if they’re resistant to tell you all the details.
No matter what way you decide to handle it, assure them that their safety is the most important part and sometimes protecting them does require doing things they wouldn’t want to do (like having a meeting with the school).
As always, keep in mind the feelings that your child may be experiencing during this time, and continually create a safe space for them.
3. Talk to the School
If you feel like the bullying is getting out of hand, set up a meeting with the school’s principal. Your child may resist as they don’t want to be embarrassed or they’re scared of how the bully will react, but bringing awareness to the school may help other children stay safe as well.
Go into your meeting prepared; write down instances that your child has stated they were being bullied and if cyber bullying occurred take screenshots/records of those instances as well. Have ideas of the ways that this can be handled to help everyone feel comfortable and safe.
Some schools are so overwhelmed with bullying instances that it may feel as though they aren’t doing enough, however, that doesn’t mean bringing it to their attention is a waste of time. It still allows them to track and keep records of the “problem” individuals and keep an eye on them.
If you are someone that feels like the school isn’t doing enough there are some steps you can take. You may consider moving up the chain of command going to the Superintendent or even the State Department of Education.
You may also want to try brainstorming with the school/district about a step by step process of how to handle bullying. Is it a three strike you’re out type of scenario? Are there any repercussions? Are there school assemblies/videos that can be shown in class to bring awareness?
Outside of that you may want to consider talking to other parents to see if you can create a committee that can assist with how the school handles bullying.
You can also ask your child if they notice anyone else getting bullied, there’s always strength in numbers. Especially when dealing with a school that isn’t doing enough.
Preparing Your Children
Keep in mind that just because your child isn’t experiencing bullying now, doesn’t mean that it can’t happen in the future. Hopefully it never actually does, but it’s never a bad idea to be prepared. Let’s look at a couple ways that it can be prevented:
1. Have Open Conversations
Educate your child about what bullying is. Remind them that it doesn’t always have to be them getting shoved into a locker to qualify. There’s emotional and cyberbullying that are just as harmful as physical.
As mentioned above, create a safe place for your child to explore any feelings around bullying. They need to know that you can handle hearing about their situations without huge emotional reactions. They also need to feel safe with you to help avoid feelings of shame and embarrassment.
2. Build Confidence
In many instances, a bully will try to find someone that is already down on themselves because they seem like easier targets. They don’t want someone that’s going to call them out, so they choose people that are too scared to do so.
This is why building confidence in your child can be so helpful. You can consider having them join activities outside of school or take extra classes to help them create more friend groups.
You can also be sure you not only tell them how proud you are of them, but that they should be proud of themselves as well.
Hanging their work/assignments on the fridge or somewhere around the house on display or allowing them to teach you something they’ve learned at school that day are great and simple ways to help build confidence.
Even allowing them to do things around the house that you normally do can give them a sense of accomplishment and a confidence boost. Things like helping with dinner and praising them for their hard work can be a great place to start.
3. Teach Them to be a Role Model
Even if your child is not the victim or the perpetrator they are still involved in bullying by being a bystander.
Teach your child to be kind to other students and to watch out for the ones that don’t have friends. Your child can be the role model for inclusiveness and they can teach others how to be as well. Sometimes this isn’t even done consciously, simply teaching your child to be kind can go a long way.
Allow them to stand up when something needs to be said, and teach them appropriate ways to treat other students. They don’t need to like everyone, but they can respect them, and that lesson starts at home.
I wanted to be sure I provided some resources for you in case you want to better prepare yourself and your children, stopbullying.gov has many resources that may be beneficial for you.
If you know of someone feeling hopeless and may be experiencing thoughts of suicide call 1-(800)-273-8255 (TALK) and for Spanish speakers call: 1-888-628-9454.
Stomp Out Bullying also has a free chat line that assists individuals from 13-24 years of age to deal with bullying.
And as always, try to find a counselor or mental health professional to help your child navigate their experiences.