Happy Pride Month! All kids deserve kind, safe, welcoming places to grow.

How do I help my child with bullying?

Naming that this can be an emotional place for caregivers, yet here are a few starters if you suspect your child is being bullied. Ask if you are seeing any of the signs of bullying in:

In preparing to open conversation with your child:

  • Recognize the signs of bullying : 
    • Changes in mood
    • Avoiding former friends 
    • Acting secretive
    • Losing sleep
    • Skipping school
    • Spending more time alone 
  • In preparing to open conversation with your child:
  • Ground yourself: as parents we are protective of our children, and approaching this topic as calmly as possible generally gets better outcomes.
    • Take a minute (or 3) to breathe and prepare yourself. 
  • Create space to talk: Create a calm, quiet environment where you can simply be together.
    • Find a time that you can connect where there are no distractions. 
    • Invite your child to share with you by gently asking about the behaviors that you have noticed. 
  • Listen:  This is reflection vs action: you are simply listening and there’s no need to offer a fix.
    • If you are unsure if bullying has occurred, ask:
      • I’ve noticed that you’ve been [insert behaviors], did something happen? 
      • Is there something happening at school that you want to talk about? 
    • If your child has shared an incident(s) that you believe to be bullying you can ask:
      • How did that make you feel? 
      • Has this happened before, was this the first time? Are you worried it will happen again? 
  • Affirm: Be sure your child knows you’ve heard their feelings and that you are there to support and help create a plan for safety.
    • Remind them that this is not their fault and no one deserves to be treated this way.
    • Empathize with their feelings.
    • If your child is having a difficult time opening up, it can help to share stories from your childhood about similar experiences. 
    • Offer to help: “I understand this is hard. Would you like me to help?”
  • Plan.
    • Ask your child:
      • “What will make you feel safe?”
      • Would you like to talk with your teacher with me?
      • “Can I talk with the teacher or your school to make a plan?” 
    • Discuss what they can do if this happens again.

Is my child being bullied?

It may be confusing to determine the difference between normal conflict between children and bullying. According to the CDC, bullying includes three elements: 

  • Unwanted aggressive behavior
  • Power imbalance (this might be a specific fact, as in age, height, or perceived, as in tone of voice)
  • Repeated behavior (or likely to repeat) or happens at the same time of day (lunchtime, gym, etc.).

Aggressive Behavior can be: 

  • Verbal: being called names, insulted or threatened
  • Social: being left out, having rumors started about them
  • Physical: being hit, kicked, spit on, pushed, shoved, tripped, threatening gestures or postures

Power imbalance can mean someone who is physically stronger, someone who has a higher social standing, or someone who can influence other children’s opinion of them. 

Repeated behavior: When these dynamics are repeated and not a one time situation they are considered bullying. 

Tips for navigating bullying with children: 

  1. Don’t ignore bullying. It is important to take bullying seriously. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, including of the supervising adults,  to determine if the behaviors meet the definition for bullying. 
  2. Don’t blame the victim. Reinforce that bullying is not your child’s fault and that it’s an adult’s responsibility to keep them safe. 
  3. Get support from other adults. If bullying is happening in school it is important to notify the school to form an action plan for how they will address the problem. 
  4. Create a safety plan. Often in the moment of being bullied a child might not be sure of how to respond. Practice what they can do in that moment such as using phrases such as “stop” and walking away. 
  5. Use social stories. Talk about examples of bullying in tv shows, books or examples from your own childhood. Discuss how each person might be feeling and what they could do in the moment. 

What if your child is the bully? 

If you have learned that your child has bullied someone else this can bring up a lot of emotions in you. It is important to remember that this behavior is likely a symptom of an emotional need that can be addressed. Behavior is a form of communication in children – it’s important to try to understand what’s underneath the actions.

Here are some tips to talk to your child if they are bullying others. 

  • Stay calm- try and approach the situation with curiosity to help your child undercover what is going on under the surface. 
  • Bullying is a behavior-with support your child can learn to stop this behavior. 
  • Ask the following questions:
    • Tell me more about what you were thinking and feeling when this happened? 
    • What happened before the situation happened?
    • How did you feel after the incident was over? 
    • What do you think you could have done differently? 
    • How do you think we can start to repair and move forward in a new way? 
  • If your child does not know how they could have handled the situation differently, help them come up with some solutions – Perhaps asking “what if” questions.. 
  • Reinforce that bullying is never okay, and make a plan to repair the relationship with the person they bullied, if it is appropriate and possible (and the other child and their adults are prepared to handle that step).
    • This might mean writing an apology note, replacing broken items or just keeping their distance from the person. 
  • Pay attention to what skills they might be lacking. This could include:
    • Impulse control
    • Difficulty expressing anger appropriately 
    • Self-esteem
    • Social Skills

All of these skills can be learned and addressed with the help of a professional child therapist. 

Children’s Books That Address Bullying:
One by Kathryn Otoshi 
Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell Illustrated by David Catrow