Tips & Thoughts for Parents of a Bully or Bullying Victim

Bullying is not an easy topic for anyone dealing with it to discuss. For our children, it’s embarrassing and hurtful. For parents, it may make you feel unequipped to handle it. But there needs to be a spirit of openness and honesty in our homes if we want our children to trust us enough to open up about bullying.

Parents, we know that we cannot solve all of our children’s problems. And for many bullying may be written off as kids being kids and a rite of passage for children to simply learn to deal with. But that’s not acceptable. At least not anymore. At this delicate and difficult moments our children need us more than ever to help bring attention to their problem, have a discussion with school officials (if it’s occurring at school) or meet with the other child’s parents, if necessary.

This is the third post in recent weeks that I’ve posted on the topic of bullying as I’ve confronted my own past as a bullying victim. My story is similar — I was picked on because I danced and did theater. My “friends” turned on me during 7th grade and I was incapable of discussing my bullying with my parents or family members. That encouraged me to write this post for parents and it includes the advice I would give myself if either of my sons encounter bullying in their lives.

Bottom line is — there are also some serious questions that parents need to be asking.

First of all, notice the signs — is your child acting differently? Are they becoming withdrawn? Are they no longer hanging out with their usual friends? Does your child seem to be avoiding certain people or activities? If these things are happening there might be a perfectly normal explanation. Or there might be something deeper. It’s time for you to investigate.

Check their social media. Check their web searches. Check their notes app or handwritten journal. This is not snooping, by the way. This is parenting. Imagine how you would feel if you failed to do these things and something awful happened to your child? If your child is struggling you want to be there to help them. You have an opportunity in these moments to get them help. Do it.

Probe gently. Before you sit down and confront your child about whether he or she is being bullied, think through the conversation. Be gentle and be mindful of their feelings and realize that, initially, they will likely deny that anything is wrong. They won’t want to discuss with you. But be persistent if you truly believe there is an issue. If your child is not willing to talk to you about it, set up an appointment with a therapist or a trusted family member or friend. It can be challenging for your child to open up to you about something as hurtful as bullying.

No judgments. If your child does share their experience with you, refrain from making any judgments or snap decisions. Let your child do the talking and try to guide them through the discussion. When you suggest a course of action they may resist and you may hear a lot of “But you don’t understand” comments. It’s true. You may not understand the nuance of the situation and things have changed since you were in school or were a teenager. There is no one-size-fits-all response to these types of problems so take it slow, consider your answers and keep the mood as pleasant as possible.

Don’t harp. Once the problem is out in the open, give your child tons of support and don’t focus on the issue. Let them get away from it. Lift them up with your words and actions, give them a soft place to land and encourage them. Instead of reminding them of the trouble, simply give them a smile or reassure them. This is something they need to deal with and, with your help, they will. This problem won’t be solved in a day.

Think through your decisions. Parents need to think through the choices they make for their child — from the clothes they wear to the activities they’re involved in. It reminds me of THIS old “Saturday Night Live” sketch where Nicolas Cage is worried about giving his child a particular name, fearing the others kids will make fun of him.

If you believe that your child is a bully, you need to confront the issue head-on and try to figure out what is making them act that way. What are they unhappy about? Why are they treating others this way? This is a serious issue and not some coming-of-age thing that will pass. Your child’s actions are hurting and stifling another child. It needs to be addressed and deal with.

Parents should ask themselves some introspective questions — Are you teaching your kids bullying lessons at home with the way you talk or your actions? If so, you and your child need to deal with it.

My hope is that these tips and guidelines will spur conversation because at times like these, that is what children and families need more than anything — an opportunity to sit together, be honest and work together to try and solve this problem. The answers may not be easy and it may involve tears and pain but you will be there to help each other.

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About Happiest Daddy

Two boys, one wife and a ton of material. I live for family and I’m one of the most blessed people you will ever meet.

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