Talking to your child about bullying is difficult for a wide variety of reasons, but it’s crucial that your child is well equipped to handle situations that could arise any day at school. With these strategies for starting the conversation, your child will have a fully stocked anti-bullying toolbox!
Teach your child about bullying
This is the most obvious step, but one of the most important. Your child can’t stand up to bullies if they’re unable to identify it when it happens. Don’t forget to tell them to trust their gut–a lot of bullying is subtle. If they get a feeling that something isn’t quite right, they should come to you to determine next steps.
TIP: Teaching your child about the dangers of gossip is always a good idea.
Avoid sentiments that excuse the bully
Many of us heard these growing up. While statements like, “he’s teasing you because he likes you,” are well-intended, all they really do is excuse the behavior away. Instead, discuss with your child that kids bully for all kinds of reasons–trouble at home, low self-esteem, a desire to be popular, etc..
Demonstrate conflict resolution as a family
Arguing with a sibling is common. If your children are fighting, keep an ear out for name-calling and mean, unproductive language. Take that time as a learning opportunity to demonstrate how you resolve conflict in a healthy way. If they don’t have a sibling, model good conflict resolution with other members of the family. It could be as simple as deciding dinner together and being mindful when people are craving different things. Children mirror the behaviors they see at home!
TIP: It does matter who started it. Listen to the events that led up to the fight and act accordingly. Treating both parties as equally guilty will only tell the victim that reporting an incident will get them in trouble too.
Normalize talking about feelings
While this is a bit of a side-step, it can really come in handy if your child becomes the victim of a bully. Keeping an open dialogue about thoughts and feelings will establish trust, and your child will be more likely to come forward if something happens at school. Some kids are shy and have a difficult time talking about their feelings, so don’t be afraid to demonstrate this behavior yourself. While you talk about their day at school, talk about your day at work! For example, you can tell them about how your workload was stressful, but you took a break to clear your mind and come back more organized. Trust is a two-way street!
Instill your child with confidence
Studies show that children with high self-esteem are less likely to bully others. Further, mean comments from other students are less likely to have a major impact on them too.
Emphasize the positive
In most cases, kids want to be validated more than anything else. Tell them you’re proud of them when they demonstrate kind behavior, like if go out of their way to include someone who is playing alone. They’ll seek out that positive reinforcement and keep engaging in kind behavior to get it.
Use their favorite show to discuss complicated situations
After watching TV with your child, take a moment to ask them questions that will help build their empathy and understanding. Ask how they think certain characters felt in certain situations, and what they would do if one of their friends felt that way. Talk directly about bullying after episodes that revolve around the topic.
Focus on the screens
At this stage, your child is probably online in one way or another. Teach them about digital citizenship, how to report cyberbullying when they see it, and what is appropriate to post on social media.
Develop a supervision plan
There are a lot of conflicting opinions on whether going through your child’s phone is a good idea or not. At the end of the day, it mostly depends on your relationship with your child. Sit down with your pre-teen and determine the best course of action when it comes to supervision. Maybe you agree that you must follow them on every social media platform, or maybe you have their account passwords as a deterrent for bad behavior. Our advice though, do not go through their phone as punishment or in secret–this can cause a major rift in their trust in you.
Discuss expectations before you drop them off
You knew it was going to happen one day, but you didn’t think it’d come so soon–they’re going to the movies with friends and you’re just dropping them off. It’s scary for them and for you! Before you drop them off, go over expectations of their behavior. Remind them that exclusion, excessive sarcasm, and singling someone out are all examples of bullying.
Create an anti-bullying game plan
While some situations will require adult intervention, teenagers may feel compelled to stand up to bullying themselves, whether they’re the one being bullied, or they bear witness to it. Talk to your teenager about your expectations for involvement–obviously no one wants their kid coming home with a bloody nose. Come up with multiple safe, level-headed responses that can be used in different situations so they know what behavior is acceptable.