Oftentimes, kids shy away from conversations about bullying: they’re reluctant to disclose whether or not they’re being bullied, and they may even take steps to conceal the bullying. According to Licensed Mental Health Counselor and founder of More MH Counseling, LLC, Amy Moreira, “a full understanding of whether your child is being
bullied or not and the extent of the bullying and its psychological impact is often like completing a large puzzle,” which may take some detective work—but it can be done. Follow Moreira’s 8 tips for talking to your kid about bullying:
1) Establish open communication.
Moreira says the first step is to make your child feel comfortable about opening up to you. “Kids go through many changes throughout development, so opening communication to talk about general changes is a good place to start,” she says. “If open communication already exists, if/when a parent notices changes due to bullying, such as withdrawal, isolating, emotional outbursts, and so on, the changes can be addressed effectively. For example, ‘why are you skipping out on basketball when you used to really enjoy it?’”
2) Educate them about bullying.
“Educating your child on in-person and online bullying, reasons why some kids become bullies, and proper steps to take if they are being bullied is an essential piece,” says Moreira. “Make sure that they know you expect them to talk to you if they see someone else being bullied or if they are being bullied themselves.”
3) Encourage them to stand up for the bullied.
Moreira says it’s also important you, “encourage your child to not join in with bullies who are bullying others, and encourage them to help others not fear bullying. If your child believes they can help any of their friends who may be bullied, it shows that help is available. Therefore, if your child takes a protective stance against bullies, it may encourage them to disclose if they are being bullied themselves.”
This conversation may be a difficult one to have, but role-playing may help you effectively discuss bullying and its harmful effects. Furthermore, it will help your child feel more comfortable talking about actual events of bullying in the future, according to Moreira: “Practicing appropriate responses and practicing ‘made up’ bullying stances will encourage communication if actual events present themselves. Scenarios can involve protecting their friends or themselves, and it gives you a chance to practice appropriate responses.”
The reality is that bullying can have some harrowing effects on the victims and may cause them to act out in a troubling manner. In cases such as these, hear your child out understand what really happened. “Some children that are being bullied have reactions to the bullying, which may include getting into a fight or detention due to swearing in response to bullying,” says Moreira. “Be aware of changes that have occurred, and encourage your child to communicate what happened.”
6) Use your child’s language.
Moreira says it can help to get on your child’s level, so to speak, and use language they’re familiar and comfortable with: “Directly ask about bullying, without using the word, ‘bullying.’ There is a negative, powerless, and, at times, stigmatic connotation to the word bully. Children and adolescents may use other terms such as a peer is ‘causing drama, starting beef, putting things on blast,’ etc. Using the terms your child uses will make you more relatable and understanding, which may encourage your child to reveal information.”
7) Invite their friends into the conversation.
Don’t be afraid to include your child friend’s in this important conversation. “Talk to your child in pairs and encourage allies,” Moreira suggests. “Take an opportunity to dig deeper when a close friend is present. Oftentimes, a friend is not aware of what has or has not been discussed in regard to daily life including bullying, and they may clue you in on information that may help you piece things together. There are many children who view their friend’s parent as a ‘second parent.’ Developing relationships and open communication with your child’s friend is a good opportunity to increase your awareness and directly address bulling in your own child. Furthermore, your child having a friend that openly discusses bullying with you and supports your child is considered a protective factor.”
8) Build coping skills.
And lastly, Moreira says to work on building effective coping skills. “A good way to address bullying is to develop coping skills that protect from bullying and provide effective outlets including participating in extracurricular activities, developing relationships with teachers, coaches, and counselors. A child who is being bullied feels isolated and as if the world is against them. Creating a protective “world” with supportive adults that can recognize the signs of bullying and provide support is a good way to open the door and minimize the potential of bullying in the first place.”