When you hear that your child is being bullied, it can be hard not to have an emotional reaction. But researchers have found that the way you respond to bullying incidents can have a significant impact not only on how your child deals with a bullying incident, but also how quickly she will move beyond it.
If your child is being bullied, there are ways to help her cope and lessen its lasting impact. For instance, focus on offering comfort and support no matter how angry or upset the incident makes you. Remember, kids often don’t tell adults about bullying because they feel embarrassed, ashamed or confused. You don’t want to discourage her from telling you about the next incident.
Also be sure you practice effective listening and avoid asking questions like “what did you do to cause it?” You also don’t want to interrupt, criticize or minimize what your child has experienced. Instead, focus on what she is saying. It also may help to remember to say these six things to your child.
“It took courage to tell me.” Sometimes, kids keep silent because they are worried that reporting it will cause the bullying to get worse. Other kids are worried about an adult’s response. For instance, they question whether adults will do anything about the bullying. And they worry that they will be encouraged to fight back when they are too scared to do anything about the bullying. As a result, it’s important that you praise your child for speaking up about the bullying. Acknowledge that you know how difficult it is to talk about bullying. Be sure your child knows that reporting bullying is not only brave, but also the best way to overcome bullying incidents.
“This is not your fault.” Sometimes kids feel like they did something to warrant the bullying. So telling an adult just deepens their embarrassment and shame. Remind your child that bullying is a choice and that the responsibility for the bullying lies with bullies, not with your child. Also be sure your child knows that she is not alone. Bullying happens to a lot of people but together you are going to figure out what to do.
“How do you want to handle it?” Asking your child how she wants to handle the bullying demonstrates that you trust her decisions. It also empowers her to move out of a victim mentality and develop a feeling of competency again. It’s never a good idea to try to take over and fix things for your kids. Instead, focus on helping her explore different options for dealing with the situation and then support her in those options.
“I will help you.” While it’s important to allow your child to problem solve when it comes to bullying, don't delay contacting school officials about bullying especially if your child has been threatened, physically harmed or the bullying is escalating. It’s important to bring school personnel into the loop even when it is relational aggression. All types of bullying have consequences and any delay in getting outside help could make things worse for your child.
“Let’s brainstorm how to keep this from happening again.” Getting your child to move beyond bullying incidents and think about the future is key. Aside from practical advice like walking to class with a friend or eating lunch with a buddy, have your child identify where the bullying hot spots are in the school. If at all possible, your child should avoid these areas. Additionally, get your child involved in outside activities and find things that will build self-esteem. But be sure to listen to your child and let her tell you what she thinks might work. The creative things your child comes up with might surprise you. Then, do your best to help her put those ideas into action.
“Who’s got your back?” This may sound like a silly question, but when it comes to bullying, your child’s peers can do a lot to help prevent future bullying incidents. In fact, research has shown that friendships can help prevent bullying. Get your children to think about whom they can count on at school. For instance, is there someone they can walk to class with? Is there someone they can sit with at lunch and on the bus? If your child feels like they don’t have friends to fall back on, look for ways to help her develop friendships. Also, ask her to identify a trusted adult she can turn to at school for help.