Learning that your child is being bullied prompts a range of parental emotions — from anger and fear to sadness and frustration. This emotional response is natural. We raise our kids to be loved, accepted and valued, and seeing them in pain can stir up many feelings. Whether your child has reported or showed signs of bullying, it’s important to sit down with them to calmly talk about this potentially devastating social behavior. Providing a safe and supportive environment, as well as a listening ear, are keys to developing a plan for how to move forward.
Here are several tips on how to talk to your kids about bullying:
Don’t Minimize the Serious Effects of Bullying
Bullying is defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Whether this traumatic experience happens once or repeatedly, bullying can lead to more than just “the blues.” When talking with your kids about bullying, it’s important to honor the seriousness of the situation.
Kids who are bullied are more likely to experience depression and anxiety in their lifetimes. They also may suffer from self-esteem issues or loneliness and struggle in school. Why? Children who are bullied are more likely to miss school due to not feeling well or skip classes, which can directly affect their learning, grades and test scores.
Due to shame or fear, it may be difficult for some kids to approach an adult about a negative social situation. It’s important to stay involved in your child’s life and listen to them if they mention a potential incidence of bullying. While bullying and its serious ramifications can’t always be prevented, dealing with the problem in a swift and efficient way could minimize its effects in the future.
Listen Without Judgment
During a conversation with kids about bullying, parents may be tempted to immediately react or give an opinion. Children should be able to talk about their experiences in a supportive and safe environment. So keep in mind that it’s important to refrain from interrupting and instead just listen at first. This not only allows kids to express their feelings and take ownership over the situation, but also can empower them to help devise a plan for how to address the bullying.
Once your child is finished talking, also take a moment to address your own feelings. Reacting too strongly can lead a child to not want to approach adults about a tough situation again in the future. Once you’re ready to speak, you can express your love, support and thoughts on how to address and remedy the bullying. Make sure that your child understands that the bullying is not their fault, that they’re not alone and you’re here to help, and that they deserve to be treated with respect.
Share Your Own Childhood Experiences
Letting your child know that you’ve “walked in their shoes” before can be vital to developing trust and expressing empathy. Even if you never experienced, say, online bullying, you can relate to your child by sharing a story from your own childhood. Or, simply make your child aware that you understand the social pressure they’re going through and that you are always available to listen, give advice and help.
By being honest and vulnerable (without making the conversation about you), it may be easier for your child to approach you about this sensitive issue in the future.
Make a Plan of Action with Your Child
After listening to your child speak about their experiences with bullying, discuss the best ways to move forward. Even if your child says they don’t want you to get involved, you still should advocate on their behalf if the situation requires it. While you want to remain respectful of your child’s wishes, parents should try to be as involved as they can be when it comes to bullying, awareness and safety.
Talk to teachers, coaches and other guardians/parents about how bullying is being handled at school, during extracurricular activities and at friends’ homes. Special attention also should be given to the increasing threat of bullying through technology. Photos, videos or messages sent through phones — as well as social sites and apps that target young people — can enable bullying behavior. The more informed you are about the “game plan” for addressing bullying in all its forms in your community, the more you’re able to swiftly and effectively take action.
Recognize the Outward Signs of Bullying
Remember: Anytime you notice a change in your child’s behavior, it’s important to sit down and ask them how they are. Even if your child doesn’t report an incident of bullying to you, as a parent, it’s vital to look for those signs yourself. A child dealing with bullying also could appear sad or irritable, as well as experience changes in their eating and sleeping habits. They also could demonstrate a drop in energy levels and a loss of interest in doing things they normally enjoy.
A child dealing with anxiety from bullying may appear stressed or worried and may struggle with controlling their worrying. The effects of bullying also can manifest physically: bullied children occasionally have health complaints, such as head or stomach aches. When in doubt, sit down, listen and talk to your child.
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