One of the best ways to prevent your child from being bullied or from becoming a bully is to open up the lines of communication. However, adolescent children can be difficult to communicate with.
At this age, children are beginning to separate more from their parents and they turn to their peers for guidance and support. Unfortunately, peers aren’t always the most helpful when bullying is going on. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry estimates that about half of all children are bullied or exposed to bullying at some time during their childhood. The only way to know what your child may be going through is to start communicating.
In the News
The media presents opportunities for discussion. When you read about a bullying incident or see one on the news, you begin asking questions. Ask your child about stereotypes. Ask them if anything like the news story happens at their school. You can also talk to them about how they would have handled a similar situation.
Related: Coping with Teen Bullying
It’s important to stay neutral during the discussion. Your child needs to be able to come to their own decisions and trust that you respect and support their opinions. You can offer guidance and talk about how you might handle the situation if you feel your child may be on the wrong track.
Teach Them What Bullying Is and What It Isn’t
Children can be confused about bullying. When they have a better understanding of what bullying is, they can be better prepared to handle the situation.
Author Trudy Ludwig offers the following information for helping children understand bullying, through what she calls “tiers of behavior”:
- When someone says or does something unintentionally hurtful and they do it once, that’s RUDE.
- When someone says or does something intentionally hurtful and they do it once, that’s MEAN.
- When someone says or does something intentionally hurtful and they keep doing it – even when you tell them to stop or show them that you’re upset – that’s BULLYING.
You can help your child better understand bullying by working together to describe situations that may or may not demonstrate the behavior. You can then talk about solutions for the various scenarios you create together. For example, you might say, “Jamie starts spreading rumors about you and a boy that you’re friends with at school. Is that bullying?”
Create opportunities to have discussions with your child. Enjoy a weekly meal together. Go for a drive or head to the park and just talk about things going on in your child’s life. Ask questions that require more than a one-word answer.
For example, instead of asking “How was your day?”, ask “What did you do today?” or “What was the best and worst part of your day?” Ask questions like, “Who do you eat with at lunch?” or “What is it like to ride the bus?”
These types of questions require answers that are more than one word long and they can lead into longer conversations. Respect that your child may not always want to talk, but you need to be ready to listen when they are ready. Opening up the lines of communication and learning about what’s going on in your child’s life can make a big difference. This will position you to recognize a bullying situation.