If your child has been bullied, unfortunately, he or she not alone. More than 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year and it’s estimated that 160,000 teenagers skip school each day because of bullying.
As a parent, you want to help stop it and also teach your child how to cope with bullying. But some of the most common things kids hear from adults, such as "ignore them” or “it’s just part of being a kid, and in the end it will make you stronger,” are the wrong messages to send. These are invalidating and damaging because they don’t empower children or help them figure out solutions to what is a very real psychological trauma.
Here are some dos and don’ts for talking with your child about bullying.
Kids don’t have to handle this alone.
Kids are often embarrassed and ashamed that they’re being bullied and worry that their parents will be disappointed or angry with them. One of the first tasks you have is to make sure your child knows how much you love and support them.
Make it very clear that you will help them deal with this issue without judgment.
Reassure your child that nothing is wrong with them.
Bullying has far more to do with a challenge or struggle the bully is having, and much less to do with the child being bullied. Bullies tend to be emotionally immature, impulsive, and poor problem solvers who lack empathy. Many have been victimized too and resort to bullying to cope with their own emotional struggles.
It’s imperative to debunk the myth that kids are only victimized because they are weak. Kids who are victims of bullying tend to be sensitive, respectful, honest, creative, emotionally intelligent, have a strong sense of integrity and a low propensity to violence. It’s important to remind your child that these are all amazing qualities!
Resist the urge to step in and take matters into your hands.
You might want to confront the bully yourself or call the bully’s parents to intervene, but this rarely works and could actually exacerbate the situation. It’s also likely to make your child feel even more disempowered.
Instead, work with your child to brainstorm potential strategies and solutions. Involving the school in some way is also essential. That might mean alerting your child’s teacher or principal about what’s happening or even sitting down with the school psychologist to get some help.
Solutions are far more complex than “ignore her,” or “stand up to him.”
As with most interpersonal situations, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It’s important that you really dive into the details of the bullying situation with your child so you can collaboratively come up with ideas about how to handle it.
In some situations, walking away and not giving the bully the satisfaction of getting a rise out of you might work, but in others that might actually make them more angry and aggressive. You need to tailor the strategy to the specific circumstances.
It’s very helpful to role-play with kids to help build their confidence. Your child doesn’t have much experience in implementing whatever strategy you decide on, and practicing will make it easier to do in real life.
And most important, lift your child up and empower him or her by reminding them of their amazing strengths and good qualities.
For more information or to find help check out the resources available at stopbullying.gov.
If you or someone you know is experiencing severe depression and thoughts of suicide as a result of bullying, contact the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) immediately for assistance.