Bullying. It happens far too often, and it hurts. All three of my children have been the recipient of bullying, and it’s tough, heart-breaking even, to watch as a parent. As difficult a conversation as it can be, we must address bullying with our children, because when prolonged, it can lead to an array of physical and mental health problems that can have lasting effects. Bullying can take many forms, such as name-calling and other verbal abuse to outright physical abuse. None of it is ever acceptable, and our children need to understand this. While I am not an expert on bullying, I do want to share with you what I tell my children. It is important that we, as parents, have talks like these ready to go in our minds for when these situations arise. After empathizing with them, here is what I say in steps:
1. Ignore it. If it is simple, verbal bullying, just walk away. Bullies usually want to assert some sort of power over those they perceive as weaker than they are. There could be a variety of reasons why this might be, from problems at home or at school, to a low self-esteem. If you don’t give their words power, oftentimes, they will get bored with you and stop.
2. Compliment the bully. This seems like a strange request, but it works to throw off the person hurling insults. It’s difficult to continue insulting you if you are complimenting his or her appearance or the way they answered a question in class or played a game. Plus, you’ve covered step 1: you aren’t giving their mean words any power. Quite the opposite, actually!
3. Tell an adult. If the bullying is becoming physical or it just simply won’t stop after several attempts of ignoring it or giving compliments, you must tell a teacher. You aren’t being a “snitch” here. You have tried to handle it calmly and in a good way several times, and it is time for an adult to intervene. It cannot continue.
Again, empathy goes a long way. Kids want to know that their parents are on their side and understand their struggles. Tell your children that you are sorry to hear about the bullying. This helps to validate their feelings and helps them to know that, of course, their feelings do matter to you. An especially effective “tool” is to share your own experiences with your children. Children love to hear stories from their parents’ past. You can talk about what you did to handle the situation and place yourself in your children’s shoes. Sharing stories really helps your children to understand that you “get it,” which is a big deal to them!
My goal with my children — and I tell them this — is that they become confident, independent thinkers who are strong enough to know who they are inside and out. I want them in control of their lives, not anyone else. By attempting to handle these really challenging situations on their own in a rational and calm manner, they develop the self-confidence they need to become the positive, independent, and loving adults we want them to become.