TEACHING OUR KIDS ABOUT BULLYING
I spend a lot of time talking to parents and children, and to the professionals who work with them, and one thing is clear – bullying is a real issue for many kids. This is not new. But there is much greater awareness these days in the community of bullying and the harm it can do.
Do a Google search on bullying and you will be bombarded with articles, workshops, books, activities and more that can help teach children about bullying, including what they can do if they experience bullying themselves, either as a witness, a bystander or a perpetrator.
As parents most of us are keen to do what it takes to ensure our child doesn’t experience bullying, and in the unfortunate event that they do, that they are able to respond to it with confidence.
But what are some of the things we can do? Here are some suggestions:
Help your child develop a sense of self-worth, such that if they do experience bullying it doesn’t eat away at their sense of who they are. This is easier said than done but there are some key things you can do to help develop this. They include enjoying a good relationship with your kids, spending time with them, ensuring they know you love them, giving them appropriate levels of responsibility, speaking to them respectfully and more. I’ll write another blog on this because it’s a biggie!
Make sure your child understands the difference between bullying, someone being mean once and falling out with a good friend. I have lots of parents tell me their child is being bullied, but with a bit of digging it becomes clear that it isn’t a bullying situation, e.g. someone in their class has been mean to them once or they’ve experienced a friendship fire with a close friend. I’m not saying that these situations aren’t upsetting, but they aren’t bullying
Give your child the skills they need to navigate the playground confidently – bullying isn’t just restricted to primary school, it is something that high school and university students can experience, and something that we can experience as adults. These skills include being able to respond to mean comments with a quick comeback and to shrug them off. They also include teaching kids how to resolve issues that arise with good friends and that it is important to speak with caring and supportive adults in bullying situations, or in other situations that they are struggling to handle
Teach them empathy. Often times, children who resort to bullying behaviour have stuff going on and it can help our kids cope with what they are going through if they reflect on this and show them empathy. I’m not saying we should minimise what our children are going through, but we can always show compassion and kindness to others. At the same, let’s avoid labeling kids – just because children have demonstrated bullying behaviours in the past, it doesn’t mean they always will
Encourage positive friendships, both in and out of school. As your child grows older, they will depend more and more on their friends, and they will increasingly turn to their friends for support. Nurture these relationships so your child has someone to turn to when the chips are down
Encourage positive relationships with other adults. Hard as it is to hear, your child may not want to tell you they are being bullied. This isn’t about you, it just means that for whatever reason they don’t want to talk about this with you. So make sure there are other people in the community they can speak to. This could be a teacher, an aunt, a sports coach, the parent of a friend, a neighbour. Talk to your child about how these people are on their ‘cheer squad’ and that they can turn to them in need
Always listen to what your child has to tell you. The more you show you are listening, the more likely they are to tell you stuff. And then when they tell you they are being bullied, believe them. It can be hard for your child to pluck up the courage to speak to you – I’ve heard kids talk about being afraid of the bullying getting worse, feeling ashamed and not wanting anyone else to know and more if they tell. So believe them. If you don’t they may not tell you next time. And when they do tell you, don’t brush it off. We may think a comment sounds innocuous, but to your child it might be deeply upsetting
That said, it’s important not to always assume your child is the victim – much as we might think our child is a perfect angel all of the time this may not be the case. So listen to them, hear them out, show empathy, give them a hug and then, when the time is right, talk to them. Ask them questions. Dig deep. Find out what is really going on
Be clear on if and when you, as a parent, need to get involved. For ongoing and serious cases of bullying you absolutely need to get involved, and you also need to involve the school. Where possible, avoid weighing in and speaking to the child’s parents – the other parent is likely to respond defensively and doing this is unlikely to resolve the issue
Teach your child the importance of compassion and inclusion – the more we can all show these traits the less bullying there will be all round
Social media is a big topic and cyber bullying is a real issue. More on this in another blog! In the meantime start the conversation with your child about social media – what it is and isn’t acceptable to post, how comments can’t be deleted, how comments can seem so much more upsetting when written in black and white on a screen, how so many more people can witness cyber bullying than other forms of bullying.
Role play delivering quick comebacks as a means of responding when others are unkind - “not cool"!” “I thought jokes were meant to be funny!”. Encourage your child to stand up tall, project their voice and keep the power by being the first to walk away. Make it fun!