Bullying is defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior with a real or perceived imbalance of power.” Ask any elementary-aged kid what a bully is and they’ll probably just tell you it’s someone who says or does something mean to them.
And it’s going to happen. Our kids will be bullied by classmates, kids on the bus, children at the park, even at church. It’s important we give our kids the tools they need to address unwanted, aggressive behavior and these five things are a good start on what to tell your kids when they are being bullied.
1. Don’t ignore it.
As a former third grade teacher and a mom for the last six years, I’ve heard other parents give their children the advice to “just ignore it” many times. I think many parents don’t know exactly what to say, or they think by ignoring it they are teaching their child to take the high road. But I have found ignoring bullying does not make the problem disappear. In many cases, it allows it to continue—and escalate.
Some bullies take this as a license to continue the behavior. It can also be damaging to a child’s self-esteem because, contrary to the popular rhyme, words do hurt—just as much as sticks and stones. This can do a real number on a child’s self-esteem because young children often get their self-worth from how others treat them.
Sometimes it is important to tell your child to avoid certain people and situations that allow for bullying behavior, but that’s not the same thing as ignoring it. It doesn’t excuse bullying but helps your child make good decisions in who they decide to surround themselves with. For example, dealing with bullying at the park may be different than dealing with it at school. Avoiding a particular kid might be a better option for the park scenario because it’s usually an isolated incident. School bullying is likely to be ongoing unless it’s properly addressed.
2. Use your voice.
I tell my kids to use their voices and address a bully head-on using their words. Sometimes we think our children will do this instinctually because maybe they are very talkative at home, but many children will not. We need to give them permission to stand up for themselves. Many times they think they will be the ones to get in trouble if they talk back to someone who is being aggressive toward them. We need to empower them to take a stand against words and actions that are bullying in nature. Using words to confront a situation helps the one being bullied take control of the situation and not feel victimized. Simple words like no, stop, and go away, said firmly and loudly, can deter a bully.
I will even role-play the situation they are dealing with so I can show them how this is done. I tell them to use a firm tone, look them in the eye, and state exactly what is bothering them and what they want the person to do. As a teacher, we would call this a bug and a wish to help little ones remember how to use their words, as in it is bugging me that you are. . . , and I wish you would. . . I also tell them they may need to use a louder voice. There are many giggles at first, but I believe by doing this they are learning to be their own advocate.
In some cases, it doesn’t work and the bullying continues. But, I explain to them this is not a failure on their part. It’s just the first step. Now, we just need to go to the next step.
3. Tell the adult in charge . . . and tell me too.
As a teacher, I’ve had students who were being bullied for days or even weeks before actually letting someone know. Even though I was a teacher who was very aware of the classroom culture and observant of class behavior, some things would get by me. Why? Because kids can be sneaky. Especially kids who are bullying other kids. So, it’s important to tell your kids to seek out an adult immediately if they are being bullied. This is another reason I don’t tell my kids to ignore it because some kids will ignore it for weeks, yet be very upset over it.
As a parent, I tell my kids I am their biggest advocate. They know I’m a safe place and I’m always on their side. But this is also because I have told them this multiple times. Parents need to know who the bullies are in their child’s life so they can monitor the situation. Sadly, some adults, even teachers, bus drivers, and other parents, do not handle situations appropriately and you may have to step in to make sure things get resolved. Even though schools are taking bullying seriously now more than ever, many parents have found schools are still not doing enough when they find their kids in a bullying situation. Don’t be afraid to go to the school board or over someone’s head if the situation isn’t getting properly addressed.
4. Hurting people hurt people—and everyone has the capability of being a bully and a friend.
One time my son, then a kindergartener, was telling me about a child at school who wrote him a note telling him he hated him. It really hurt my son’s feelings. I talked with him about it and by asking questions discovered my son had laughed at this student’s drawing earlier in the day. I was able to explain to my son two very valuable lessons. First, hurting people hurt people. My son had hurt this boy’s feelings, so this boy reacted by using hurtful words back. Second, we all have the capability of being a bully. My son’s laughing hurt this boy’s feelings and he probably felt bullied by him. An added bonus to this incident was I was able to teach empathy. I was able to show my son that this boy probably felt the same way he had felt.
One of the biggest deterrents for a bully is other people. Tell your kids if they see someone bullying someone, go over and walk this person away from the situation. This can be done by telling the bullied person you have something to tell or show them. It can quickly diffuse a situation when others step in and be a friend. Also, tell your kids to report bullying behavior even if it doesn’t involve them. Just simply writing a note to the guidance counselor or telling the teacher in confidence is a great way to be a friend to someone.
5. You are loved.
We think they know and yes, they probably do. But they need to hear it loud and clear, especially when someone is playing kickball with their heart. They need to know they have an army-sized love behind them in their family, friends, and God. We need to build them up after they’ve been torn down. Depending on the situation, they may need some extra TLC for those wounds that can be caused when someone speaks lies and hurtful words to them. They need to know they are not alone in this and together you’re going to work toward a solution.