Talking to Your Kids About Bullying
Name calling, rumor spreading, teasing, or gossiping – no matter what form it takes, bullying hurts. Roughly 70% of school-aged kids report that they have witnessed bullying in schools, but only about 20 to 30% of children who are bullied tell their parents or another trusted adult about it. It’s important for kids to reach out for help. You can help them feel safe speaking up by starting a conversation about bullying.
Bullying is unwanted aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and may involve social, physical or emotional abuse. Being bullied can have a serious impact on a child’s emotional and mental health, and can lead to these symptoms:
- Depression and anxiety
- Feelings of sadness and loneliness
- Changes in sleep and eating
- Lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy
- Physical symptoms, such as headaches and upset stomach
- Declining grades in school and skipping or missing class
There are many reasons kids might not ask for help. They might be afraid of being judged by adults, being perceived as weak, being rejected by peers or even of receiving backlash – but by giving them support through conversation, you can help them feel safe coming to you. Here’s how to talk to your kids about bullying:
- Explain bullying to your child. Talk about how bullying makes others feel and how it can take many forms – it might be a rude comment to a classmate or a physical attack, like a push or a shove. When kids can recognize bullying, they are better prepared to react safely to it.
- Talk about how to react. Bullying can involve many complex emotions that make it difficult for a child to know what to do in the heat of the moment. Help prepare them ahead of time by teaching them to stay calm, to tell the person who is bullying others to stop, to walk away if needed and to tell a trusted adult.
- Give your child frequent, safe opportunities to talk. You want your child to know they can come to you for help, and you can help reassure them of this by regularly asking about their day or how they’re feeling. Don’t ask your child to talk about bullying in public – a private conversation can help them feel safe to share how they feel.
- Listen to your child and recognize their feelings. If your child comes to you for help, listen to their thoughts and acknowledge their feelings to help them feel safe and supported.
- Be a positive role model. As children grow, they learn how to talk and interact with others by watching their parents. You are your child’s number one role model. Lead by example for them, and choose kindness.
About the Author
Terri Bauert, MSW, LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with LeBauer Behavioral Medicine at MedCenter High Point