This series is in response to Where’s My Parenting Script?! Please check back each Wednesday in the month of August for more tips.
With it being back to school season, parents are busy making preparations for the year ahead. While equipping kids with the traditional school necessities, it can also be a good time to think of other ways to equip kids for a successful school year. Bullying has received increased attention nationally over recent years which has led to greater research and understanding of this complex issue. While this issue weighs on many parent’s minds, many are not sure the best way to empower and equip their kids in this area. Here are a few practical tips for parents:
1) Define bullying: A famous quote is “a problem well defined is half the solution”. For younger kids, you can continue to use the ‘okay and not okay’ touch information (we talked about this in the second post of this series) and promote using kind words and gentle hands. Starting at ages 8-10 you can start to talk about the definition of bullying so kids are able to recognize it when they see it. Traditionally when we think of bullying, we think of it involving a bully and a victim, but the truth is that often there are three people involved: the bully, the victim and the bystander. Talk openly about these different roles and what options kids have in different scenarios.
2) Promote kindness and inclusion: With most behavioral issues, the best way to tackle the problem is to focus on the opposite of it. For example, if you want to impact lying, research will tell us the most effective strategy is to promote and reinforce honesty. When it comes to bullying the opposite is to reinforce kindness and inclusion. Many of you may have already seen The Talk from Momastery when it went viral. What a great script for parents to do just that! One of the most powerful ways besides talking about this value is of course to model it and live it yourself.
3) Assertiveness and having a plan: We are familiar with the advice kids have often received in the past when facing bullying which was “just ignore it and walk away”. Unfortunately, when that is the only advice we give, we leave kids with few options when that doesn’t work. Many expert voices on the issue talk about the need to also equip kids with assertiveness skills so whether they are the victim or the bystander they can also be empowered to stand up in a safe way through verbally saying stop, using humor or other strategies. It’s also important to go over what adults they can go to in various settings for help if they need to. Helping kids become knowledgeable about options and empowering them to use some of their own critical thinking and judgment to find solutions will give them power in situations that can feel very powerless.
4) Checking in and staying connected: Bullying attacks the core of a person’s worth. One of the best ways to bolster your child’s confidence in their own worth is securing their relationship with you. Staying connected to your child’s world can take some intentional effort at different stages. As they grow older and appear more self-sufficient, it may take more intentional efforts to maintain connection. Sometimes that may mean slowing down the busy pace we all have become used too. When you make efforts to understand their interests, lend a listening ear instead of a tempting lecture, or share a meal together, you are employing one of the most powerful prevention strategies there is for not only bullying but a number of other issues. Let kids know that they can talk to you and/or other trusted adults that love them, support them and will help them if they are in need. An important message parents should impart to kids is they have a right to feel safe and you are here to help them whenever they encounter abuse in any form.
5) Monitoring media: Bullying can now be extended into the home setting through social media, texts, etc. beyond school hours. I am an advocate of monitoring media and being thoughtful about its form and function in your child’s life. Pacer.Org has this nice Cyber Bullying Parent Guide you can access for more detailed information on this aspect of bullying and learn other ways to promote cyber safety in general with your child or teen.
Have your kids dealt with any kind of bullying? How did you react?
Heather Askew is a fellow metro area mom and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker that specializes in working with children and families impacted by trauma. She was born and raised in Oklahoma and moved to the metro area to attend college. She married her high school sweetheart and they have two of the best kids in the world. She is passionate about the joys and struggles of intentional living, matters of faith and the heart of parenting.