What do I do?
It is a horrible and helpless feeling when your child comes home from school and tells you they are being bullied by a classmate. Feelings of frustration, anger and helplessness overwhelm us. I mean, it’s our job to protect our kids, right? We send them to school and expect them to be safe!
As parents, our immediate reaction is to STOP what is going on, protect our kids and FIX the problem for our child. So what do we do? We get in the car and drive as fast as we can down to the principal’s office at the school. We storm into the school office and demand to speak with the principal!
Is that the right answer?
There are two immediate problems with that. The first is that you put the principal and the school administration on the defensive. Their immediate reaction will to be to defend their school, teachers and their job. The second is that you just modeled to your child, the wrong way to handle this problem.
Your reaction is important!
Your reaction to your child sets the tone for their ability to resolve the situation they are in and any future similar situations. Remember, the end goal is to resolve the problem.
• Remain calm; ask your child what happened.
• Acknowledge their feelings of embarrassment, humiliation, sadness or frustration.
• Be careful about your choice of words. The word “bully” has become a buzz word somewhat. Many times kids and adults are using the word "bullying” when in actuality it is typical, age-appropriate conflict.
Here is my advice:
• Ask your child a lot of questions. Try to understand what and why the “bully” did what they did. Were they hurt, scared or did they feel left out? Perhaps the “bully” was only thinking of their own needs, rather than thinking of how their actions would make your child feel.
• Things can be interpreted in many different ways, especially online. Walk your child through the particular “bullying” event or situation, talk about how each person who was present probably felt and how that affected their actions. By doing this, you will give your child the gift of “understanding” and problem solving.
• How your child responds matters. Fighting fire with fire only escalates the problem. If we fight back using nasty behavior and words, we are now are doing exactly what we don’t want the bully to do to us. Teach your child that if she wants to resolve a conflict, she has to use positive, kind words and actions.
• Most kids (or adults) are not “bad” people, they just ”behave badly.” People who behave badly are looking for attention. Sometimes, your child can get rid of bad feelings with another by responding with kindness and smiles.
• When someone is our friend or in our group of friends, sometimes we forget the most basic thing: telling them how their words or actions make us feel. Sometimes all we have to do is tell them to stop. Have your child practice what they could say.
• Teach your child how to make a plan of what to do “before” something happens. For example, if your child is being excluded from the lunch table, have them call a friend the night before and plan to sit with them the next day. Another idea might be to plan to go to lunch study rather than to the cafeteria where they will be subject to those negative feelings. Empower your child to find a way to avoid a situation that will make them feel bad.
• We can’t control how other people act. We can, however, control how we react. No matter what, there are always going to be mean people. It is important to empower your child by teaching them how to react or how to “move on” from a situation.
• Most people don’t like to hear this, but there is a difference between bullying and conflict. Disagreements or differences of opinion are NOT bullying. Help your child understand that just because you may not like what someone says, it doesn’t mean they are a bully.
Our job as parents is to “teach” our children how to navigate all types of situations. When they become adults they are going to find bullies at work, in their neighborhood and in government.
If we don’t take the time to teach our kids how to handle mean, negative and hurtful behavior, how do we expect them to know what do or how to handle a situation when we are not there?
***These suggestions are not going to solve every conflict or bullying situation. Sometimes you may have to get the school administration, the board of education or even the police involved.
The goal of this blog post is to continue to offer parents and educators the opportunity to understand what goes on in the online lives of children in this generation. It allows you to consider alternate viewpoints and reflect upon your own approach to raising your child. By no means are my thoughts and reflections the ONLY way to address these concerns.