Although bullying is more in the limelight today, it’s been around forever. I remember being bullied when I was a child, and it will unfortunately continue on in future generations. In my days however, the attitude was ‘suck it up and deal with it’. Not the most comforting (although well meaning) words we need to hear when we are being bullied. I remember a sense of shame because I really didn’t know how to deal with it and felt like a coward. Girls were always getting ‘jumped’ and it used to scare me because I was never a fighter. I really couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to inflict pain (physical or emotional) on another human being.
In Jr. high school there was a girl that some of the guys labeled Debby Duck because of her appearance. When we would have general assemblies in the auditorium, the boys would start quacking and everyone would laugh. My heart would break for this poor girl but I didn’t know what to do. I felt guilty for not defending her but also afraid of these bullies turning their attentions to me if I stood up to them.
So how do we help our children with these mixed emotions whether they are the victims of bullying or innocent bystanders? First we need to open lines of communications with our kids. They will not necessarily always just come out and say things; ask questions. “how was the playground today at recess?” “Who did you sit with for lunch?” “Have you talked to your friend John recently?” Asking questions will not only make your child feel like you are interested in what is going on in their lives but will also help them build up a trust that they can talk to you. If you are dealing with a pre-teen or teen you will more than likely get ‘one word’ answers but don’t accept that. Gracefully push through even though it may be like pulling teeth. Sometimes they don’t know if they can trust you so if they do start talking be very careful not to just react to what they say. If you fly off the handle and react they will just shut down and you will have closed that channel of communication and honesty.
When you get to the feelings that they are experiencing, whether it’s shame, fear, embarrassment etc., help them to understand these emotions and process them in a healthy way. Let them know that they are not alone and that you will work with them to find a solution to their situation. Whatever you do, do not go off and confront their bully or their bully’s parents. This will only add fuel to the fire, find alternate solutions. If you feel like something is going on and your child will simply not talk to you, make sure that they know there are people that they can turn to such as teachers, counselors, coaches, ministers etc. They have to know that they have somewhere to turn to when they decide they need help. If your child is not in this situation, have the talk with them anyway so that if they do find themselves in a bullying situation they will know where to turn.
Now on the other end of the spectrum, if you learn that ‘your child is doing the bullying’ well… that’s a whole other book…stay tuned! 😉
By Dawn Varela