"It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters." -Epictetus
How to Help Your Child With Bullies
In a perfect world, children would grow up without the unfortunate experience of encountering bullies. The detrimental effects on a child's self-esteem can be devastating. Being subjected to relentless taunting and teasing can be insufferable for kids struggling to make friends. As parents, teachers, and caregivers, there are things we can do to coach a child through a bullying event. The end goal is for the child to come out on the other side of the experience stronger, more empathic, and better prepared to handle the next social challenge that will inevitably occur. In addition to reading children's books about bullying, here are some other tactics to try.
- Listen Openly and Without Emotion: It's important for your child to be able to speak freely about the bully's behavior to a neutral audience. As a parent, it is natural for you to feel angry and upset about the situation. Keep in mind that your child will be watching you for cues, so try not to project your feelings as they will only serve to exacerbate the situation.
- Support Your Child Unconditionally: Now more than ever, your child needs your unconditional love. No matter how unstable the social environment at school, children need to know that their family will have their back no matter what. Reaffirm to your children that the bullying is not their fault.
- Give Your Child Tools and Strategies: A child can't control a bully's behavior, but how he or she responds to it is another thing. Sometimes simply ignoring the bully does the trick. But other times, a child needs some other strategies to cope, like taking measures to avoid the bully if possible. Also, coaching a child about their own emotional reaction to a bully's antics may help to dissipate the situation.
- Notify a Child's Teacher and the School Principal: Schools have a zero tolerance policy for bullying. Sometimes the best tactic is to nip the behavior in the bud by getting administrators involved. It's natural to want to teach your child how to handle a bully on their own. But this may not be possible and the emotional damage due to prolonged bullying may can be too high a price to pay.
- Be Careful About Notifying the Bully's Parents: If you know the parents of the bully and can trust that they will handle the situation appropriately, then by all means reach out to them. But don't assume that all parents will respond in a helpful manner. You may encounter defensiveness and denial which could end up making the situation worse for your child.
- Give Your Child's Social Life a Boost: Having a strong support group of friends is probably the single best defense against a bully. Go out of your way to provide extra social opportunities for your child, especially when relationships are not formed on their own. Host a small party, invite some classmates for a sleepover, take a couple of friends to the movies, etc. Allowing your child to bond with friends outside of a school setting can help tremendously. Also, consider adding some kids' books about feeling left out that help young readers deal with the emotional turmoil associated with being excluded.