With little ones headed back to school and some starting school for the first time, many parents may remember one of the biggest issues kids face: bullying. Kids bully and are bullied for many different reasons, but one thing is always the same; bullying is wrong. It’s never the bullied child’s fault and bullying is never acceptable.
But this fact is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bullying. Sometimes, just figuring out if your child is even facing a bullying problem can be the first hurdle. Using emotional intelligence, empathy, and communication, we can diagnose the issue, come up with a plan on how to help your child deal with bullies, and put that plan into action. Let’s explore how this is done and what we can do as parents to address bullying when it happens.
The Warning Signs of Bullying
Bullying is not always easy to identify and rarely does a child come to their parents to talk about it. Many children don’t want their parents fighting their battles for them and fear repercussions like retaliation from the bully or humiliation from being considered a “snitch” if they bring it up with an adult. But it’s important to identify bullying when it is happening as it can lead to terrible things like behavioral changes, depression, and even suicide. It’s not a joke and it’s something that should be taken seriously.
The easiest way to tell if your child is possibly facing a bullying issue is to notice their behavior suddenly changing. By being keyed in to your child’s normal behavior, you can quickly recognize when something’s off. Some of the warning signs to identify if a young person is being bullied include seeming anxious, not eating or sleeping well, avoiding certain situations that put them close to the bully, or other changes in normal behaviors.
If your child does come to you with their bullying problem, immediately tell them they’ve done the right thing by going to an adult and that bullying is never acceptable. Sometimes it’s up to the parent to be the one to approach the subject. If you’ve noticed the warning signs then it’s important to speak with your child and make a plan on how to help your child deal with bullying the right way (more on this in the next section). If your child fears retaliation from their bully for telling you, contact the school because many schools have anti-bullying policies so they are often the best places to go to first.
Make a Plan
In the past, many of us may have been given advice from our parents on what to do about a bully. Common advice we may have received as a child included “fight back,” “just ignore them,” or “don’t worry, I’ll deal with it.” No offense to any parents who’ve used these methods themselves, but they represent some of the least productive ways to handle an abusive situation.
Fighting violence with violence only ends with someone getting hurt. Ignoring a bully may work eventually, but it just as often makes the bully even angrier and more abusive. And when parents handle their child’s bullying problem for them, they are robbed of the opportunity to learn from the situation and become more empowered.
Some of the best expert advice on how to help your child deal with bullying in school I’ve come across is from kidshealth.org. Their tips are structured around de-escalation techniques, compassion, and emotional intelligence.
Their first strategy is for your child to establish a buddy system. Talk to your child about ways they can avoid the bully entirely and if your child can’t, make sure they know to have a friend with them. This is also a great way to help someone else out with bullying if, say, your child’s best friend is a victim of bullying. This method ensures that they’re never alone with the bully, which will inevitably end in confrontation.
The next tip is one for the kids who can’t seem to avoid fighting back when they’re bullied. No matter what the bullies say or do, fighting back is not a desirable outcome. Instead, focus on teaching your child some techniques for impulse control, such as immediately taking a deep breath, which helps them cool down and not let anger dictate their response.
Whether it’s calming breathing techniques, counting to 10, going to their happy place, whatever it is, it’s better than responding with anger. Have a conversation with your child including brainstorming every single way both of you can think of that would avoid retaliation. List them. Next, whittle the list down to include only the ways that they think will really work for them.
Another recommendation, as mentioned, is including your child in the problem-solving discussion. Don’t make every decision for them; ask them questions about how they want to handle the situation and what a good resolution would look like to them. Keep in mind, you don’t want them to ever feel like they’ve done something to deserve this.
Plans can only go so far if your child doesn’t follow through on them. When the plan is put into action, you need to balance being available to help your child and not doing everything for them. The first thing you need to be aware of is the length of time you’re willing to give your child to resolve the issue on their own before you take action. Figure out who needs to be involved in coming up with a solution. Do you need to contact the bully’s parents, the guidance counselor, the principal, the teachers, etc.?
One of the biggest reasons why kids bully in the first place is because they feel insecure about themselves. Kids who don’t feel loved, are not taught how to cope with difficult emotions or feel irrevocably different than everyone else are prone to taking these feelings out on other kids. When it comes to raising a child who won’t be a bully in the first place, emotional intelligence is our greatest asset. The skills and lessons taught by emotional intelligence act as a preventative medicine for bullying and abusive behavior. People with strong empathy see how their actions affect others and how they make others feel.
Teaching emotional intelligence and instilling them with confidence is part of how to stop your child from being bullied, but also how we cope with being bullied. By modeling empathy and good behavior ourselves, we provide a good example of how to stand up to difficult people and help our children deal with bullies wherever they encounter them in life. Bullies are everywhere and they’re something that many of us will have to deal with our entire lives. There are always going to be difficult, combative, and abusive people around us and how we deal with them is shaped by our childhood experiences and what our parents teach us to do in the face of bullying.
When your child is confident, they know they’re in the right and that they should never have to put up with abuse. They are equipped with what they need to come up with a solution if they are bullied, especially with your help and the help of the school. What about all of you out there? Have you had to console your children about their bullying problems? What did your parents tell you when you were in school and do you think their advice is still good now that you’re a parent yourself? I’m dying to hear your thoughts and experiences on how to help children deal with bullies.