Over the last 10 years, awareness of bullying and cyber-bullying has grown, and parents, schools and communities have worked hard to prevent and address bullying. Some recent studies have shown promise — school-based bullying has decreased for the first time since data have been collected. However, the need for continued dialogue and action on the issue is clear.
Rule number 1 when it comes to combating bullying is that it’s never too early to educate your children about bullying and arm them with information so they understand how to recognize and battle against it.
Bullying can be physical, emotional, verbal or social (through cyberspace), but it’s always a form of abuse. From hitting and pushing to name-calling and mocking, bullies torment their victims in ways that often have a lasting impact. Cyber-bullying can be particularly harsh since negative comments have a captive target audience.
Whether your child is a victim, aggressor or an innocent bystander, there are steps you can take to stop hurtful behaviors:
- Build their self-esteem. Children who have a healthy self-image are less likely to be a bully or a target. Encourage kids to take part in activities they enjoy. Whether they play soccer, practice fine art or sing in a choir, sports and hobbies can build confidence and friendships that help protect kids from bullying.
- Start talking… Tell your child what bullying is and explain it’s unacceptable. When incidents occur at school or even in news headlines (like the presidential election!), discuss the best way to handle the incident from your child’s perspective. Most important, be sure your child knows he should speak to a trusted adult if he is bullied or see someone else being bullied.
- …and listening. Check in with your child daily. Ask about her joys, fears and experiences. Ask about school. Listen to her concerns. Get to know your children’s friends. And don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. If your child tells you about bullying she’s witnessed, explain how she can help by showing kindness or informing an adult.
- Model kind and respectful behavior. Kids learn how to behave by watching you. From the time kids are old enough to communicate (even non-verbally), they are learning how to treat others. Give your child a high five or thumbs up, greet him with a hug and teach him how to manage big emotions in safe and effective ways. By treating others with kindness, and managing your own stress and conflict in measured ways, you show your children there’s no place for bullying.
- Discuss strategies to stay safe. If your child admits to being bullied, take it seriously. Reassure her that you will find a solution together—one that doesn’t involve violence or injury. Instead of teaching children to fight back, encourage them to firmly and clearly tell the bully to stop then walk away. Help her identify a buddy she can turn to when bullies are around. And if the situation is occurring at school, inform the teacher, principal or school counselor. Most schools have anti-bullying programs in place to help victims.
You don’t need to set aside time for a formal discussion to start a dialogue with your child about bullying. Many productive conversations happen in the car, while running errands or even while preparing dinner. So, instead of asking your child directly if he is being bullied, ask questions about cliques at school or rumors kids are spreading. You might even share your own experiences with bullies to spark conversation.
In addition to paying attention to what your child is saying, watch how she is behaving. If your child is acting differently, withdrawing from activities, or having trouble eating and sleeping, a bully may be the culprit. Help is available.