The effects of bullying can have long-term negative consequences and can color childhood with fear, isolation or social anxiety. According to ChildMind Institute, bullied children who lack parental guidance or at-home support are more likely to suffer long-term effects. It’s important to develop a vocabulary to fully understand scenarios where children may or may not be the victims of bullying, and if they are, how can parents be most supportive?
There’s no question that sarcasm, teasing, and humor play a major role in how kids relate to one another, especially in today’s internet-informed conversations. As serious as bullying can be, it’s also likely that some kids are experiencing attempts at teasing or joking that can be misconstrued as a more serious personal affront. It could be that peers are giving them a rough time about something trivial, or groups of kids are expressing divisions or petty meanness to one another. While it can sting to feel left out or to be subjected to mean behavior, not every schoolyard jab is necessarily bullying.
If your child comes to you complaining about a bully, ask about the experience in detail. Have them recount what happened, how they felt before, during and after, and look for certain key factors. For instance, was the so-called bully someone who is perceived to have more power – by being physically stronger, more popular, older or an authority figure? Did the bully carry out cruel actions intentionally? Has it happened more than once by the same perpetrator or group of bullies? Is it causing real harm? If the answers are yes, pay close attention. Signs like these can help you determine whether a mean remark, rumor or rejection are in fact the acts of a bully.
Before advising kids about how to respond to bullying, be sure to get all the facts. While it’s natural for parents to react emotionally to any story or evidence of bullying, it’s crucial to address the issue with all of the information. Be receptive and calm while you listen to your child’s side of the story – this will encourage a more detailed, forthright account of what happened.
Once you have as many details as possible, help your child formulate a plan. Kids feel stronger and more confident when they have phrases, gestures or specific ideas in their back pocket - especially when it comes to being assertive. Find ways to boost your child’s confidence after school by giving permission to do something he or she feels really good at – like sports, drawing, or music. If the problem is persistent and warrants getting other parents or the school involved, talk to your child first to ensure that you feel synced up about the plan. If not, kids might feel embarrassed or alienated by sharing their vulnerable stories with other adults they don’t know as well.