Going into a new school year, we all want our kids to feel happy and safe. But sometimes to our kids, going to school can feel anything but that. While none of us want our child to be bullied, we certainly don't want our child to be the bully either. Which is why it's so important for us to talk to our kids. Sometimes navigating these more serious topics can feel intimidating, so you need to know how to talk to your child about bullying before you send them back to school. I spoke to School Behavior Specialist Josh Ruse to find out everything a parent needs to know about bullies, and what you can do to help prepare and educate your child.
Ruse tells Romper in an email that some of the signs you should look for when it comes to bullying are "changes in your child's behavior." Ruse explains, "declining grades, or loss of interest in school period. If your child that has always been excited to go to school, [suddenly] has a loss of interest, you as a parent need to be concerned. Sometimes school work can be tough on kids, but you have to realize that school is a very social place and it’s healthy for your kid to at least enjoy being around their friends, even if school work is stressful at times."
Other things to look for, according to Ruse, are "unexplained injuries — if you notice any marks on your child that keep showing up on the regular, do not be scared to reach out to the school." We all know kids come home with scrapes and bruises, but be on the lookout for marks that look unusual, severe, or marks that happen too often. Ask your child how they got hurt and see if their response sends up any red flags. In addition, Ruse explains other signs to look for that may not be as obvious to parents include "destroyed clothing, school supplies, or electronics." Personal property that your child brings to school can easily be damaged by a bully, Ruse notes, and children who often fake an illness to get out of school may be doing so to avoid a bully.
Now that you know the red flags, how are you supposed to talk to your child about sticking up for themselves and/or others? It's simpler than you think. "Teach your child to say 'stop,' or 'I don’t like that,' especially when you are interacting with your child at home," Ruse says. "Promote your child to state their opinion about things so they speak up. This will send a message to your child that they deserve to be respected." It's so important for children to learn the communication skills they need to stand up for themselves and others, but teaching kids self-confidence isn't easy — to do this best, you need to set a good example.
"Your body language reveals your true feelings and thoughts about yourself, and when your child presents themselves as confident and unshakable, they become less vulnerable to potential bullies," Ruse says. So practice your own self-confidence. It's not only good for you, but it's good for your kids. The same goes for teaching kids to be kind. Set the example, and watch your child follow your lead.
When it comes to talking to our kids about bullies, Ruse says, "As a parent you need to explain to your child that bullying is when someone is being hurt either by words or actions, on purpose, more than once, [and] it’s something that continues all the time. It also makes you feel bad about yourself." Explaining to your child how it feels to be bullied can help them not only be able to recognize when they're being targeted by a bully, but can help them see that picking on others doesn't feel good.
Sending our kids back to school can be exciting for everyone, but it's always good to have an open dialogue about bullying. If you suspect your child is being bullied, be proactive about it and bring it to the attention of their school right away. Tell your child to reach out to an adult that they trust if someone at school is hurting them. Create safe, open communication with them so they feel that they have somewhere to turn when they're in trouble, too. And most importantly, set the example for kindness and confidence, and watch your kids follow.