How to Talk Your Kids About Bullying
Although older kids and teens may roll their eyes — and even if you may think your sweet, innocent five-year-old already knows to be kind — it’s still important to have the conversation.
Together, you’ll want to discuss different types of bullying, what to do if they encounter a bully, and why they should always treat others with kindness and respect. Instill good communication early on and get to know the names of all of your child’s schoolyard friends. That way, you can easily spot if something begins to go amiss (i.e., “Suzy doesn’t want to play with me at recess anymore because Ana told everyone I smell”).
It sounds like a no-brainer, but in addition to talking to your children about bullying, it’s important to model good behavior. If you lecture them about being nice to classmates on the way to school but then find yourself cursing out others in the carpool line, it’s doubtful that your lesson is going to sink in.
One of the most important things children need to be taught about bullying is to tell an adult about it. Whether it’s a trusted teacher, a counselor, a parent, or even the school security officer, grown-ups often need to get involved to sort the situation out.
In the meantime, be sure your child knows how to stand their ground and find their voice if they are being teased or harassed. Shy children can become easy targets for bullying, but it’s vital they are able to politely yet firmly ask the culprit to stop. Many families choose to role-play social situations at home to help their children get a better idea of what to do.
Encourage them to stand up for others and to report anything they see, even if they aren’t the ones personally being harassed.
But what about preventing your child from being the bully? It’s crucial to teach habits of kindness and respect even from a young age. Children should know and understand that not everyone they meet is going to look or act just like them. Differences are never an excuse to cast off kindness. Take any school reports of bullying seriously, and don’t be afraid to dole out the consequences.
Recognizing the Signs of Bullying
If you have an older teen or a more reserved child, they may not come right out and tell you that they are being bullied. This is one of the reasons why many experts recommend monitoring your child’s social media and phone use. But there are some key signs to look for in order to spot a child who is the victim of bullying:
- Avoidance of certain places or people
- Sudden change in attitude
- Unexplainable injuries
- Broken or missing personal items
- Loss of interest in school or extracurricular activities
- Anxiety or depression
- Outbursts of anger
What to Do if Your Child Is a Victim of Bullying
If your child reports that they have been bullied, it’s crucial that your reaction leaves them feeling respected, heard, and understood.
When bullying is pervasive, severe, or otherwise harmful, it may be time for you to step in. If possible, address the situation with other adults who are involved (like the other child’s parents and a school counselor or principal) or remove your child from the situation (i.e., switching schools).
After the fact, watch for signs of depression and anxiety that may crop up. Your child’s pediatrician can also help evaluate if any counselling or other mental health services are needed.
In today’s digital age, the schoolyard bullying of years past has taken on a whole other dimension. With kids as young as kindergarten-age being given unprecedented access to technology in the form of texting, video chatting, and even social media, it can be harder than ever to identify and prevent cyberbullying.
Teaching your child to be a responsible online citizen is just as important, if not even more so, than learning how to treat others with kindness and respect in person. Even adults are prone to misbehaving online when the person on the other end of the keyboard is an anonymous figure.
Discuss safe internet use and how to block inappropriate content from anyone who is harassing them. And reiterate that you are there to help your child every step of the way.