One of my biggest worries as a mother has always been finding out that my child is being bullied. It seems like every time you turn on the news there is a report about a child — some as young as elementary school age — committing suicide as a result of bullying. As a parent, it's important to know how to talk to your kid about bullying so that you can help avoid this kind of tragedy in your own family.
Bullying has become so prevalent that several organizations have developed over the past few years in the attempt to educate adults and children on its impact. The PACER Center in Minneapolis, a parent training and information center for families of children with disabilities, founded the National Bullying Prevention Center in 2006. Its goal is to provide resources for students, parents, educators, and others, and recognizes bullying as a serious community issue that affects education, physical and emotional health, and the safety and well-being of students.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services manages the website StopBullying.gov which provides information from various government agencies on what bullying is, what cyberbullying is, who is at risk, and how to prevent and respond to bullying. These are just a couple of the excellent resources available to parents who want to bring up the bullying conversation.
If you're worried your child is being bullied (or even bullying others), here are some tips on how to talk to your them about it.
Most kids are going to have run-ins with other kids who are mean or rude. Even though these are not acceptable behaviors, meanness or rudeness does not necessarily constitute bullying. According to PACER, bullying is being hurt either by words or actions on purpose, usually more than once, feeling bad because of it, and having a hard time stopping what is happening. Similarly, Stop Bullying defined bullying as unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is also repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.
If you're worried that your child may not be old enough to talk to about bullying, don't be. Child and family therapist Meghan Dahlin tells Romper that it is never too early to talk to your children about bullying. Kids start developing emotional recognition for others at a young age which helps to increase their empathy.
Stop Bullying also noted that talking directly about bullying is an important step in understanding how this issue might be affecting your kids. Talking for just 15 minutes and asking some important questions can reassure your children that they can always talk to you if they have a problem. Examples of questions you may want to ask are:
When a child thinks about the consequences of bullying, the are probably thinking about being punished for bullying or even getting in trouble for fighting back. But, when a parent considers the consequences of bullying, more likely than not, they are thinking of suicide.
Books and television shows such as 13 Reasons Why don't hold a candle to the daily news reports of children dying by their own hand. But, the fact is that most kids don't truly comprehend the impact of bullying. Mental health counselor Ally Chase tells Romper:
It is important that parents recognize that their children do not understand the finality of suicide, and that they may struggle to see how the cost of suicide far outweighs getting revenge on a bully or escaping the pain of bullying.
Kids who are struggling with depression or other mental health issues are more likely to consider suicide as a solution to their bullying problems. Immediately contact your healthcare provider or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 if you suspect your child may be suicidal.
One of the best ways a parent can show a child that there is no place for bullying in their lives is by modeling kind and respectful behaviors at home. Chase warns that when parents model behaviors such as gossiping and negativity, this can result in fostering bullying behaviors in their children. Stop Bullying noted that even when kids seems like they aren't paying attention, they are watching how adults manage stress and conflict, as well as how they treat their friends, colleagues, and families.