How to Talk to Your Children About Bullying

July 20, 2020

Advice to parents
Seeing your kids experience the physical and emotional pain of bullying or cyberbullying is excruciating.
Some parents are hesitant where to begin to help protect their kids. Others may not know if their kids are victims, observers or even perpetrators of harmful behaviors.
Below are some tips on how to start a conversation with your children. 

Understanding the basics: What is bullying?
Bullying can be identified through intent, recurrence, and power. A bully intends to inflict pain, either through physical or verbal abuse, and does so time and again. Boys are more likely to experience physical bullying, while girls are more likely to experience psychological bullying.
Bullying is a behavioral pattern, rather than a one-time thing. Bullies often come from a higher social standing or position of strength, they are perceived to be popular, bigger, or tougher.
Most often children who face a greater risk of being bullied come from marginalized or poor communities and families. Among the most vulnerable ones are kids with different gender identities and with disabilities, migrants and refugees.
Bullying can also happen online. Cyberbullying frequently happens on social media, via SMS or instant message, email, or any online communication network. Because parents may not always follow what their children are doing on these platforms, it can be hard to know when your child is impacted. 

Why should I intervene?
Bullying can have an adverse and durable impact on kids. Besides the physical implications, children may experience emotional and mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. All of this can lead to substance use and underachievement in school. Cyberbullying can reach a child anywhere, at any moment. It can cause serious harm, as it can rapidly reach a wider audience and leave a permanent footprint online for all involved.
Your kid has the right to a safe, enabling school environment that respects their dignity. 

How to help prevent bullying in your kid’s school?
The first step to keeping your child safe, whether in-person or online, is making sure they know the issue.
Educate your children about bullying. Once they know what bullying is, they will be able to identify it more easily, no matter if it is happening to them or someone else.
Talk openly and frequently to your children. The more you talk to them about the subject, the more comfortable they will be telling you if they see or experience it. Check in with your children daily and ask about their time at school and their activities online, inquiring not only about their classes and activities, but also about their feelings.

Help your child be a positive role model
There are three parties to bullying: the victim, the perpetrator, and the bystander. Even if children are not victims, they can prevent bullying by being inclusive, respectful and kind to their peers. If they witness bullying, they can stand up for the victim, offer support, and/or question bullying behaviors.

Help build your child’s self-confidence and self-esteem
Encourage them to enroll in classes or join activities they love in your community. This will also help build confidence as well as a group of friends with shared interests.
Be a role model. Show your child how to treat peers and adults with kindness and respect by doing the same to the people around you, including speaking up when others are being mistreated. Children look to their parents as examples of how to behave, including what to post online.

Be part of their online experience
Familiarize yourself with the platforms your child uses, explain to your child how the online and the offline world are connected, and warn them about the different risks they’ll face online.

What signs to look out for
Look closely. Observe children’s emotional state, as of them may not express their concerns verbally. Signs to look out for include:
– Physical marks such as unexplained bruises, scratches, broken bones and healing wounds
– Fear of going to school or joining school events
– Being anxious, nervous or very vigilant
– Having few friends in school or outside of school
– Losing friends suddenly or avoiding social situations
– Clothing, electronics or other personal belongings being lost or destroyed
– Often asking for money
– Low academic performance
– Absenteeism, or calling from school asking to go home
-Trying to stay near adults
– Not sleeping well and may be having nightmares
– Complaining of headaches, stomach aches or other physical ailments
– Regularly distressed after spending time online or on their phone (without a reasonable explanation)
– Becomes unusually secretive, especially when it comes to online activities
– Being aggressive or having angry outbursts

Talk openly
Talk to your children about what they think is good and bad behavior in school, in the community and online. It is important to have open communication so that your children will feel comfortable telling you about what is happening in their lives.

Responding to bullying
If you know your child is being bullied, there are several steps you can take to help them:
1. Listen to your child openly and calmly. Focus on making them feel heard and supported, instead of trying to find the cause of the bullying or trying to solve the problem. Make sure they know that it is not their fault.
2. Tell the child that you believe them; that you are glad they told you; that it is not their fault; that you will do your best to find help.
3. Talk to the teacher or school. You and your child do not have to face bullying alone. Ask if your school has a bullying policy or code of conduct. This may apply for both in-person bullying and online.
4. Be a support system. For your child, having a supportive parent is essential to dealing with the effects of bullying. Make sure they know they can talk to you at any time and reassure them that things will get better.What to do if the child is bullying others
If you think or know that your child is bullying other children, it’s important to remember that they are not inherently bad, but may be acting out for a number of reasons. Children who bully often just want to fit in, need attention or are simply figuring out how to deal with complicated emotions. In some cases, bullies are themselves victims or witnesses to violence at home or in their community. There are several steps you should take to help your child stop bullying:
1. Communicate. Understanding why your child is acting out will help you know how to help them. Are they feeling insecure at school? Are they fighting with a friend or sibling? If they are having trouble explaining their behaviour, you may choose to consult with a counsellor, social worker, or mental health professional who is trained to work with children.
2. Work through healthy ways of coping. Ask your child to explain a scenario that frustrated them, and offer constructive ways of reacting. Use this exercise to brainstorm possible future scenarios and non-harmful responses. Encourage your child to “put yourself in their shoes” by imagining the experience of the person being bullied. Remind your child that comments made online still hurt in the real world.
3. Examine yourself. Children who bully are often modelling what they see at home. Are they exposed to physically or emotionally harmful behaviour from you or another caregiver? Look inward and think honestly about how you are presenting to your child.
4. Give consequences and opportunities to make amends. If you find out your child has been bullying, it is important to offer appropriate, non-violent consequences. This could be limiting their activities, especially those that encourage bullying (social gatherings, screen/social media time). Encourage your child to apologize to their peers and find ways for them to be more inclusive in the future.
5. Take action
In addition to being a support system to your child, you can work with your school and even your local or national decision-makers and local leaders to change policies to prevent and address bullying.