Bullying is a common parental fear. We send our dearly loved children out into the world hoping nothing and no one will harm their tender hearts, but hurt feelings are inevitable. We cannot keep our children in a protective bubble, physically or emotionally, indefinitely. So what is a parent to do when the fear of bullying becomes an all-too-painful reality?
Here are 6 tips to prepare yourself and your kids:
- Turn off technology and social media at home
We live in an overly connected world without respite unless we enforce it for ourselves. Long gone are the days of feeling like home is a safe haven from bullying. Cyberbullies can follow their targets anywhere, even the sanctuary of your child’s own bedroom. Enforce a no phones, screens and social media rule (it can be after school or during certain times each night and on weekends). This can protect your children from falling down the rabbit hole of Instagram and Facebook and falling prey to cyber bullying at all hours of the day and night. Disconnect from the cyber world to reconnect with your family in the evening. Moreover, children do not need their phones after they are in bed, so keep phones, tablets and computers out of their room when it is time for them to sleep.
- Remember technology is a privilege and must be earned.
Access to technology like phones, computers and tablets should not be a foregone conclusion for kids. It’s a privilege to earn by following the house rules and being kind to others. If rules are broken, privileges are taken away — it’s that simple. Privileges and phones can then be earned by following the rules, doing chores, volunteering, or doing well in school. It is up to your discretion to create the rules reinforcing the positive behaviors you want your child to exhibit.
- What to do if you suspect your kid is being bullied.
As in any relationship, communication is extremely important. If you think your child may be the target of a bully, talk with them about it.
Elizabeth Falb MSW, LISW-S, a pediatric mental health therapist, shares it’s important to “discuss and brainstorm with your child what they can do, and what their options are” if they are being bullied.
As parents, we quickly react and want to swoop in to save the day. We hope we can spare our children any hardship, but “we want our children to feel empowered to handle these situations.” Falb says.
As a caveat, if the bullying is severe and your child fears for their safety, it’s time to address it with the school.
Falb advises parents to be proactive and to “have these conversations before bullying happens, not as a scare tactic, but rather talk about what behavior is expected from your child and other children. Then discuss what to do if good behavior does not happen, so your child already has a plan in place.”
Lastly, it is important to talk about what to do if your child sees another student being bullied. Children need to learn to speak up when bullying is taking place, that they should be kind, and to get help from an adult.
- Role play at home to help your kid feel comfortable in difficult situations.
It’s easy to tell your kid what to say in a tough situation: “Just tell them to stop it, or ignore them.” It’s another thing to experience it in the moment when adrenaline is rushing and others are watching. Role playing is a great way to practice how to behave in high pressure situations.
Depending on how old your kid is, you can make it like dinner theater and “set the stage” by moving furniture and assigning the two top roles of your child and the other child bothering them. First the adults play both parts, then in the encore performance, your child plays their part or the part of the bully. Your child should eventually play the role of themselves. This gives them the opportunity to practice saying things like, “You need to stop doing that” in a safe environment with less social pressure — and then it’ll come easier to them in real life.
- What do if your kid is the bully.
As much as we fear our child could be the victim of bullying, it could be even more distressing to learn your child is a bully who is hurting other children. Once again, the best option is communication.
“Talk about what behavior is expected from your child,” Falb says. “For example, being kind and respectful and what this means.”
Be sure to provide praise and positive attention when your child acts with kindness. Also, be prepared to take away privileges when they are not behaving appropriately. Falb says, “Children need to know this is serious. Words and actions matter.”
- Know when to seek help from professionals or the school.
School staff and behavioral health professionals are trained in addressing bullying. If you find the bullying situation is not getting any better — or is, in fact, getting worse — it may be time to elevate the situation and seek outside help. Speak up and ask for help from the professionals. It’s always better to ask for help than ignore the situation.