Written by Laura Le, LCSW
October is Bullying Prevention Month. As it approaches, here is information that can help prevent bullying and support your child if bullying is already occurring.
Whether your child has shown bullying behavior, experienced bullying, or has not encountered bullying, talking about bullying is important. When parents create an open dialogue about a topic, it communicates to their child that it’s ok to talk about these things. Waiting for your child to confide in you may unintentionally send the message that talking about teasing and bullying is taboo. Share about your own experiences with mean teasing, being excluded, or being bullied. Ask your children how they define bullying, being excluded, and the difference between good-natured and mean teasing. To foster this open dialogue, many parents also find it helpful to ask questions that can give insight into their child’s peer relationships. For example, you might ask, “Who did you sit with at lunch today?” “What’s recess like?” “Have you ever seen another kid at school get picked on?”
Responding to Bullying
We do not recommend using physical responses to bullying, as many schools have a zero-tolerance policy. That means that hitting or pushing back can cause the child being bullied trouble as well. Instead, we encourage children to try these strategies:
- Find power in numbers. Children in a group are less likely to be singled out. Stick with friends or acquaintances. If making and keeping friends is difficult, stay near a trusted adult.
- Stand up for yourself. Tell the bully, “Stop,” in a direct, firm tone, using eye contact. This response can be difficult to accomplish when upset or scared, so be sure to practice with your child.
- Tell a trusted adult. When it comes to safety, telling an adult is not tattling. Talk to your child about who are the trustworthy adults in their life.
- Talk about it. Knowing you’re not alone and learning that bullying is not your fault can help cope with the stress of bullying.
If you’re child engages in bullying behavior:
- Be clear about what bullying behavior is and how it’s harmful to others. The definition involves an imbalance of power and repeated or persistent talk early and openly about the effect of mean words and actions.
- Communicate that this behavior is unacceptable. Be sure to model respect as you discuss consequences.
- Help your child identify alternative ways to interact and strategies to use when tempted to bully. If you need support in this area, reach out to a child/adolescent therapist.
If you’re child has never experienced bullying behavior, he or she can still play an important role in stopping and preventing bullying. For example:
- Display respect and kindness to all students. Encourage your child to be brave and sit, play, or partner with others who don’t make friends as easily.
- Stand up when you see someone being bullied. Your child can help end an incident by getting the other child away. For example, your child might invite the person being bullied to play or tell the child that a teacher needs to talk to him or her.
For all children, regardless of how or whether bullying has impacted their lives, developing confidence and self-esteem is critical. An important way to accomplish this is helping your child find something he or she loves. Feeling competent and successful feels good! Joining clubs, classes, sports, or other groups or volunteering also offers the opportunity to meet others who share similar interests. Being with like-minded people can potentially create friendships, a critical protection against the impact of bullying.
Stay in touch with your school. Many school districts have rules and procedures about bullying in their Student Code of Conduct. Read and know the policy so that you know how to support your child. As much as possible, read the school newsletter and attend open houses and parent conference nights. Having a relationship with the other important adults in your child’s life can help you be an advocate if bullying arises.
Bullying can feel isolating and humiliating; collaborating and speaking openly can help prevent and heal.