Talk About Bullying With Your Child
No doubt, as a parent you are aware of the problem of bullying and the damage it can cause to your child’s self-esteem. Bullying can also cause anxiety and/or depression symptoms in children. It can cause them to lose the motivation to want to attend school, socialize, and be with their peers. Every parent knows the harm of bullying and would like to somehow make things so that their child is never bullied, but that’s not realistic. Unfortunately, it’s not a matter of if your child will be bullied, but when and how you will handle it. This blog is to help you talk about bullying with your child and how to handle it if/when it happens.
Talk About What Your Child Needs To Know
When you talk with your child about bullying, there are some things you need to help him or her understand. You might use this blog to create some “cue cards” with these topics so you don’t forget.
1. - Talk about the difference between normal conflict and bullying.
All children experience conflict with their peers. That's normal. Children don’t have a filter, so they tend to say and do things that are “mean.” This is part of growing up: learning to edit your thoughts and behavior. In the meantime, unkind words or actions can start a conflict. That is different from bullying. Bullying is intentionally and repeatedly hurting someone who is perceived as weaker. Bullying always involves an imbalance of power, using one’s position of strength/power to intimidate or harm someone in a weaker position. This can be done in person by another child or online by a stranger.
2. - Talk about some reasons why children bully.
Second, talk about why children bully and explain that bullying says more about the child who does the bullying than it says about the child who is the victim of the bullying. The main reasons for bullying are:
Lack of attention at home
Maybe the child feels neglected or is exposed to family conflict. The child feels helpless and ignored, so as a coping mechanism he/she seeks to gain power and get attention by bullying.
Loss of control
Some children suffer from anxiety and need to control their environment and other people. So, they bully other children and try to dominate and be “the alpha” of the group.
Bullying is a learned behavior. Children who see bullying or are victims of bullying at school or even at home by their siblings sometimes mimic that behavior and do it to others. They may be trying to fit in with other children who also bully.
Sometimes children bully other children because of their race, gender, religion, disability, or other factors. They are being taught intolerance. Maybe they hear racial slurs or comments about people who are different and they are putting those comments into action.
3. - Talk about questions your child might have
Third, answer any questions your child might have. They may tell you about experiences they are having with another child and you can help them determine if this is normal conflict or actual bullying. You can also come up with an action plan to respond to the bullying. Let’s talk about that next.
Talk About What You Want Your Child To Do
Once your child understands what bullying is and is not, and why children bully, it is time to talk about what your child should do if and when someone tries to bully him or her.
1. - Talk about non-engagement.
The first thing you want to talk about is that your child should not engage. This may go against your grain. When I was young, the accepted wisdom was to fight the bully because bullies are usually cowards who back down when they learn that you will stand up for yourself. But this is a different day and age. School administrators have zero tolerance for physical altercations and will bring in the police. Your child may end up with a police record, regardless of the circumstances. So, when your child is bullied, it is best to not engage with fists, but to go find a teacher or authority figure and tell them what is happening. If there is not an authority figure to tell, your child can wait and tell you later. Let him or her know that you will not be mad at them and you will help them.
2.- Talk about why mimicking is a bad idea.
It is a bad idea to follow along with bullies and mimic what they do. Explain why a bully is not a good choice for a friend. I Corinthians 15:33 says, “Bad company corrupts good morals.” And that is true. That child will only lead your child into antisocial behavior and trouble. If and when the bully changes his or her ways, then maybe friendship would be okay, but not while the child is still actively bullying others.
3.- Talk about having some backup.
A good suggestion is for your child to create an alliance with other good kids where they promise to stand up for one another if another child ever starts bullying anyone in the alliance. The alliance should never become a bullying group themselves, however. It’s simply friends having each other’s backs. When someone in the alliance gets bullied, that child lets the other friends know and when they see the bully approach their friend, they gather around him and stand their ground while one child goes and gets the playground teacher. Almost always, the bully will stop the bullying when that happens. This is a good life-lesson, to stand up for what is right and be a dependable friend.
Talk About What You Will Do About Bullying
Finally, let your child know what you will do if and when he or she is ever bullied. You will contact the school and meet with the teacher and principal. Most schools have bullying education programs that encourage respect, support, and empathy with other children. They will be glad to work with you and your child about what is happening with the bully. In extreme situations, you may need to go beyond the school officials and go to the police, though this is a last resort. The number one priority in your response is the welfare of your child. It is important, if you have to step in, that your child sees you responding with a level head and not a hot head.
If you need help talking about bullying with your child, I urge you to read more about family therapy and then reach out to us at Christian Counseling Associates for help. I specialize in working with clients on parenting skills, and would be glad to work with you in our Grapevine office.
A.J. Molina is a Licensed Professional Counselor at Christian Counseling Associates in Grapevine. He holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from LeTourneau University. He is also a Certified Life Coach with the Dale Carnegie Highest Achievement Award. He is a SYMBIS (Save Your Marriage Before It Starts) Facilitator, as well as a Prepare/Enrich Facilitator. He is a member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and the Psi Chi International Honor Society.