Bullying: How to Help Your Child

October is Bullying Prevention Month. Bullying touches the lives of many young people and it can take many forms including physical, mental/emotion, and cyberbullying. While there are many ways we as adults can support bullying prevention, we can also teach children to help themselves when faced with bullying.

Teach Empathy.

“Hurt people” hurt people.

Children are often amazed when I tell them that the person who is bullying them probably doesn’t feel very good about himself or herself and that’s one of the reasons they engage in bullying behavior.  Maybe they’ve experienced significant challenges, survived trauma, or maybe they’ve been the victim of bullying themselves. This doesn’t make it right or excuse the behavior, though sometimes understanding where the behaviors are coming from can help.

In addition, teaching empathy can help kids from becoming the bully. Parents are often surprised to hear their children are the ones engaging in bullying behavior.

Teaching children to be kind and respect others regardless of differences is a key element of prevention.

Emotion Vampires.

Say what?! People who bully can be like emotion vampires. They feed off of the emotions of the people they pick on. Remember what I said about how “Hurt People” hurt people? Well, when we feel bad, we need something to make ourselves feel good. The anger and sadness of the bullying victim often helps them feel more powerful or better about themselves as the negative attention is away from them.

What do I do if I’m being bullied or my child is being bullied?

Don’t feed the emotion vampires! Sure, bullying hurts… A LOT, in fact, but if the person who is doing the bullying sees that they are getting a reaction from what they are doing, they are more likely to keep doing it. So, the anger, the sadness, the frustration feedsthe emotion vampire. Get it?

So, what do can you instead?  

  • Ignore them.
  • Calmly and assertively tell them to leave you alone.
    (Ex: “You need to stop.”, “Leave me alone.”, “Knock it off.)

Remember: The more you act like it doesn’t bother you, the better!

But what happens to all the feelings??

Bullying HURTS. Stuffing feelings down and pretending they don’t exist can make a person feel worse. If you’re a child or a teenager who’s being bullied, it’s important to find a trusted person to talk to about how you’re feeling. Talking about it and problem-solving can help you feel better. And if you’re a parent who suspects your child has been bullied, being available to talk and listen is so important. The old phrase about “sticks and stones” is 100% not true. Words DO hurt.

What if the bullying continues?

This is definitely when adults need to get involved.  Bullying isn’t ok and if it isn’t quickly resolved, an adult may need to step in, particularly if physical violence has happened or is threatened. Reminder: It’s important to teach children that NO ONE HAS A RIGHT TO PHYSICALLY HURT THEM, EVER. If this is happening, or if physical harm has been threatened, it’s important they tell a trusted adult.

Bullying that is not resolved quickly should be reported to your school’s administration. Many schools have bullying policies in place and take bullying very seriously. Also, when the school is involved, they can intervene as needed. Parents should report all threatening messages to the police and should document any text messages, emails or posts on social media.

Moving Forward…

When you can, do your best to avoid situations where you will be alone. Go to the bathroom or walk the halls with friends or a group of students. Avoid areas that you know the particular person who has bullied you spends time.

Tips for Parents:

The American Psychological Association has some great tips for parents if bullying continues to be an issue:

Observe your child for signs they might be being bullied.

Children may not always be vocal about being bullied. Signs include: ripped clothing, hesitation about going to school, decreased appetite, nightmares, crying, or general depression and anxiety. If you discover your child is being bullied, don’t tell them to “let it go” or “suck it up”. Instead, have open-ended conversations where you can learn what is really going on at school so that you can take the appropriate steps to rectify the situation. Most importantly, let your child know you will help him/her and that they should try not to fight back.

Teach your child how to handle being bullied.

Until something can be done on an administrative level, work with your child to handle bullying without being crushed or defeated. Practice scenarios at home where your child learns how to ignore a bully and/or develop assertive strategies for coping with bullying. Help your child identify teachers and friends that can help them if they’re worried about being bullied. 

Set boundaries with technology

Educate your children and yourself about cyberbullying and teach your children not to respond or forward threatening emails. “Friend” your child on Facebook or Myspace and set up proper filters on your child’s computer. Make the family computer the only computer for children, and have it in a public place in the home where it is visible and can be monitored.

If you decide to give your child a cell phone think carefully before allowing them to have a camera option. Let them know you will be monitoring their text messages. As a parent, you can insist that phones are stored in a public area, such as the kitchen, by a certain time at night to eliminate nighttime bullying and inappropriate messaging.

Parents should report bullying to the school, and follow up with a letter that is copied to the school superintendent if their initial inquiry receives no response.

Although bullying can have an impact on learning and social development, we can reduce or eliminate the effects by teaching children about empathy and respect, giving kids the skills they need to effectively handle problems, and being emotionally available and supportive. Together, we can make a difference.

Additional Resources for coping with bullying and bullying prevention: