Bullying is a big problem in schools all over the world: in American high schools alone, a third of students are bullied, and a third of students are doing the bullying. Even though it’s so common, it’s still hard for parents to talk about it with their kids. Children and teens don’t usually come to their parents to tell them about bullying, and those who are bullies themselves tend to not mention the fact around family. Bullying is such an important topic to talk about, and hopefully this article that outlines 4 ways that parents should talk about bullying with their kids can help you have this important conversation with your child.
1. Know the Signs
Bullying, at its core, is the act of causing distress or physical harm to someone who cannot fight back. Children who experience bullying may become avoidant, skipping classes or entire days at school so that they can feel safe; some may begin acting out, or engaging in self-harm behaviours. While these and similar sign are not necessarily always tied to bullying, it is important to talk with your child if you notice concerning behaviour.
2. Avoid the “B word”
If you come right out and tell your child you want to talk to them about bullying, it is likely that the conversation will go nowhere fast. Most students avoid using the word “bullying” at all, and instead use words like “drama” to describe the behaviour. If your child is being bullied, labeling their experience as such may make them feel pathetic, further closing them off. Instead, ask leading questions, like “why are you skipping school today?” or “why aren’t you hanging out with your friend anymore?” Obviously, if you see signs of physical harm, you should address those as well.
3. Help your Child Cope
The mental toll that bullying puts on a child is immense, and there have been many documented cases of children and teens committing suicide or engaging in risky self-harm behaviour in order to cope with their trauma. If your child is being bullied because of their appearance or a disability, ensure that you help them build their self-esteem and be proud of who they are. Consider taking your child to speak with a counselor or therapist, so that they can hear an objective take on their situation, and so that they can learn coping mechanisms from a professional. Encourage your child to pursue hobbies outside of school, so that they can make friends and develop skills that are not tied to something that may trigger anxiety.
It is important to note, however, that if the bullying continues or escalates in severity, you may have to enroll your child in another school. If the administration is not doing anything to help your child where they are, then you as a parent have to make sure that they go to a school where they feel safe.
4. Understand that Your Child May Be a Bully
You may have heard from school, other parents, or your child’s friends that your child bullies other kids. You may have even noticed problematic behaviour yourself. The most important thing to do is to face the problem, and avoid being in denial about your child’s bullying. Identify the reasons that your child is bullying others as best as you can before talking to them; are they bullying children who are of a different size or race, are they bullying children with disabilities, or are they bullying people just to look cool in front of their friends?
Talk with your child about the situation, being careful not to be overly hostile or threatening. Ask them why they engage in this behaviour, and be patient with them– then, talk about the reasons you thought about it prior to beginning this conversation. Consider enrolling them in counseling or therapy to work through their aggression or potential self-esteem issues, and encourage them to develop good relationships with students at school. You may also want to talk to your child’s teachers to make them aware of this problem so that they can watch out for it too.