Bullying is a tough subject in any capacity. No parent wants to hear that their child is being teased or tormented by another child, and. there are many ways one can go when they hear that dreaded news. But in the age of kids hurting or even killing themselves due to bullying, what is the right thing to do? How do we protect and empower our kids when it’s their peers who are making life hard for them? Let’s talk about it.
I was a bullied kid. “Blessed” with a shy and over-emotional demeanor, huge glasses, bad teeth and worse hair, I spent a year getting off the school bus in tears, declaring I was never going back to school on a daily basis, and putting up with constant teasing and shunning from my fellow students. It was a long and cruel time, one that I really didn’t grow out of until college. It was a hellish time, but I survived it with little to no intervention. Should kids emulate me? Absolutely not. To borrow a phrase, it takes a village to raise a child, and when it comes to bullying, it takes a lot of people to protect and help a kid.
There will be arguments against this, that children need to be stronger, that they need to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and rise above their bullies. But there are a lot of kids who feel powerless against those who are hurting them, and bullying can be physically violent, a situation that demands intervention immediately. Of course kids should be standing up for themselves, and should feel empowered to do so, but this is rarely the case with bullied kids. Words hurt, and a constant stream of negative reinforcement can break down a child very quickly. Kids learn to believe their bullies, and need a steady stream of positive reinforcement in order to learn that they are not what the bullies say they are.
This is not to say that parents should be on hand to fight their kids’ battles for them. Adults cannot follow their kids down the halls of schools, staving off bullies at every turn. The positive reinforcement should happen at home, in a safe environment, where the parent and the child can have an honest conversation about what is going on, and then brainstorm about how to best tackle the situation. If the child is in physical danger, the school also needs to be informed, because if anything, a child needs to feel physically safe at school. But most bullying is psychological, not physical, and it can take a lot of work to undo the mental torment that kids can go through from other kids.
But what to say to our kids? It’s a tough question to answer. There’s no easy answer, as every kid is different and every bullying situation is unique. But the core of helping your child understand that they are not deserving of this torment, and that they are loved beyond description is a good way to start. Of course the go-to “it gets better” is a legit thing to say, but it can ring hollow, because a child lives in the moment, not the future, so we as adults need to focus on what will make the child feel better now, instead of concentrating on the future. An open path of conversation and the reinforcement that your child can come to you with anything at all that is bothering them is the core of opening a dialogue about bullying, and once you and your child are talking openly and honestly, you as the parent will have the opportunity to give your bullied child the space they need to talk about their feelings. Once they are doing that, the answers to “what to do when your child is bullied” might seem easier than you thought they would be.