How to Talk to Your Kids About Bullying (and What to Do If It Happens to Them)
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How to Talk to Your Kids About Bullying (and What to Do If It Happens to Them)

I often hear parents talk about how we’re coddling our kids too much these days — that in the “good old days,” our parents let us handle confrontations at school. It helped us build character, yada yada. While I’m not a fan of what some call the “wussification” of our children either, bullying has taken a serious turn for the worse these days. To ignore it can lead to dire consequences. Our children can get hurt or, worse, killed if we turn a blind eye. Not only do we have to worry about our children becoming the target of bullying but, if we don’t pay enough attention to our kids at home, our kids can even become bullies themselves.

It’s more important than ever that we open the lines of communication with our children on bullying. As an article on notes, “Sometimes spending 15 minutes a day talking can reassure kids that they can talk to their parents if they have a problem.” As the article suggests, you should keep your questions open-ended, such as “What was one good thing that happened today?” or “What is lunch time like at your school?”

Help your child to understand bullying, and what constitutes bullying. You might even consider helping them see why this particular bully is acting this way. Perhaps they are having issues at home or not doing well in school. It doesn’t mean your child needs to accept the bullying, but it can teach them empathy. Again, you can use your open lines of communication to even ask your child why he or she thinks this person is a bully. The more communication, the better. You never want your child to shut down, as he or she may start keeping serious incidents from you in the future. Never belittle them or make them feel silly for what they tell you.

You can also stay very involved through the PTA and/or volunteering at their school so you’re aware of the environment there. If, through conversations with your child and/or being active at his or her school, you discover your child is being bullied, you need to take action. As this article on points out, your first recourse is to provide them with support and advice. Give them tips on how to deal with the bully using things like humor to deflect it. Make sure they also have a strategy to keep themselves safe. Once you’ve done that, you need to approach the school. In addition to approaching the principal and your child’s teacher, you should familiarize yourself with the school’s bullying policy. Just as you shouldn’t laugh off the incident or incidents as a parent, make sure those in charge at school don’t dismiss it either. You are your child’s advocate, so follow-through is crucial.

One thing I wrote about on my mommy blog is also teaching your child to be what I like to call a “hi-stander.” If you saw the movie Bully or the coverage of The Bully Project on CNN, you know that an important yet not often discussed component to stopping bullying is for the bystanders to get involved. As I note in my blog, you can teach your child to have compassion and approach that person later, saying, “Hi, my name is such-and-such, and I happened to see what went down in the lunchroom earlier.” Even better, if your child feels safe enough to do so, he or she could intervene during the bullying incident, or go get a teacher to do so. If we can teach our children to do this, it’s easy to see how bullying could be lessened or eradicated altogether.

The most important thing is communication, communication, communication. Make sure you’ve created an environment at home where your child feels safe to approach you about tough topics such as bullying. As research shows, it’s often the quiet kids who are in trouble, so as long as you keep the lines of communication open, you’re on the right path.

Have you talked to your kids about bullying? How did you approach it?

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07.1.2013 / 12:00 AM EDT by Marnie Brodersen
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