5 Ways to Protect Your Child From Bullying
If you know your child is being bullied, start by taking a deep breath. Your first instinct may be to charge in and do something to protect your child. However, your goal should be to help your child protect stay protected as much as possible, which will take some planning and understanding. So now, take another deep breath, and follow these five essential steps:
- Listen. The first thing your child needs to know is that you understand how he or she feels. Two natural feelings in response to being bullied are shame and anger. It may be difficult to listen to your child talk about shame or anger, but it is very important to do so in order to let them know that their feelings are okay. If your child doesn’t think you understand their feelings, it will be exceedingly difficult for your son or daughter to talk to you about what to do. After all, shame motivates us to hide, to keep a low profile and not to raise painful topics with anyone — even our parents.
- Share. If you can talk about memories of your own experiences of being bullied, teased, dissed or rejected as a child, and you can talk about how you felt at the time (not the brilliant thing you did to get even), you will send your child the message that this experience is normal and survivable. Your child will not only learn how to handle bullies, but also how to manage emotional reactions to difficult situations. Here is an opportunity to develop emotional intelligence by talking about tough feelings.
- Brainstorm. It is more important for your child to learn to solve problems than to have them solved for him or her. So, after listening to feelings, invite your son or daughter to think about what they can do. They may come up with some comical or even shocking suggestions, but accept them all in the spirit of brainstorming with the plan of later choosing the best ideas to act on. Affirming any plan that sounds realistic and supportable will give your child more confidence than if you tell them exactly what you think should be done.
- Follow Up. Encourage your child to put the plan into action. Help rehearse (playfully), and ask how it worked out. You don’t want to be pushy about it, but you do want to express that you think it is important.
- Affirm. Whatever your child decides and does, affirm it. Of course, you don’t want to encourage violent retaliation, and you don’t want to affirm abject surrender and acceptance of a victim identity. But you can reframe strategic retreat as survival and seeking help as good sense.
Many of the other things you might want to do — with the school, the other parents, the bullies themselves or the culture of bullying we live in — are beyond your immediate access or control. You can still do them, but you can depend on them taking plenty of time and the cooperation of others. The steps outlined above are within the scope of your relationship with your child, the most important foundation of his or her sense of safety and security. Start there.