Parenting Tip of the Week – A National Conversation About Bullying

“Why do they bully?” This simple question from a young boy in Tennessee went viral in a video earlier this week and left parents across the country with questions of their own. While we don’t have all the answers for Keaton yet, we do have some answers for the parents who want to know how they can help prevent bullying and how their children can respond to bullies in a healthy and helpful way.

Keaton got the nation talking about bullying with a critical first step: he started the conversation with his mom. In order to protect your own children and help prevent bullying, parents must be willing to start the conversation with their children. Here are some ideas on how you can talk to your children about bullying and bullying prevention.

Communication is Essential to Preventing Bullying

In order to know what’s going on with your children, you need to ask. Talk to your children regularly about school so they can understand what bullying is and how your child should respond if they are being bullied or if they know someone else who is.

A good way to begin is by asking the right questions. Rather than asking, “How was your day” which usually leads to: “good” or “ok,” consider asking questions that encourage a longer conversation. Some examples include:

  • What did you do at recess today? Who did you play with?
  • What was the best thing that happened today?
  • Does anyone in your class seem to be having a hard time?
  • Did anyone make you feel good / bad today? How?

Knowing the right time and place to talk is also important. For young children, after school snack or dinnertime offers a chance for meaningful communication and gives children an opportunity to share while they are also focused on eating. As they get older, car rides offer a great opportunity for talking with your child, as teens feel less threatened having personal conversations when their parents are not looking directly at them.

For some other ideas on how to talk to your kids about bullying, check out this page from StopBullying.gov.

What to do if your child tells you they’re being bullied…

If your child discloses that they are being bullied, make sure they understand that it is NOT their fault. Reassure them that they did the right thing by telling you. Help them find ways to handle it by confirming the circumstances:

  • Has your child experienced problems with those involved before?
  • Did those involved have power over your child either in strength, popularity or perception?
  • Did other children observe the conflict or did it happen in private?

Once you understand the facts, tell the teacher or principal who can monitor the situation and prevent further incidents.

Sometimes, children witness bullying and want to do something about it, but they’re not sure what to do. If your child talks to you about wanting to help a friend or someone they know who is being bullied, here are some tips you can give them.

Intervening in Bullying Situations

When children intervene in a bullying situation, it can have a powerful effect. Research shows that when peers intervene in a bullying situation, the bullying stops nearly 60% of the time. You can help prevent bullying in the future by encouraging children who witness bullying to become allies.

It is important to recognize that how children respond may vary depending on the particular situation, how well they know the people involved, and whether they are older or younger, etc. However, there are some actions that would be helpful regardless. Some actions that you can encourage your child to take include:

  • Confront the instigator in action. If they feel safe, children can say something like “hey, that’s not cool, why are you doing that?” If children are friends with the instigator, they can talk to them later and ask why they were they were doing that. Saying something like “did you know that you were being hurtful?” can help break the mystique of bullying.
  • Walk away from the incident and encourage others who are watching to walk away. If there is no audience for the bullying, the incident is likely to stop. Students can tell others who are watching to stop and encouraging everyone to walk away. If they feel safe, children can help the target themselves get away.
  • Reach out and talk to the target in private. The impact of bullying won’t last as long if the target feels they have support from their peers. Encourage your child to talk to the target of bullying and let them know it wasn’t their fault. Being present and supportive can make a big difference.
  • Get help from a trusted adult. If children don’t know what to do, they should talk to a trusted adult. Make sure your child knows they can talk to you about anything, and encourage them to tell you or a teacher or counselor if they see anything that makes them uncomfortable.

Bullying is not a rite of passage, nor is it something all children experience, but it is in fact a preventable kind of abuse. As advocates and parents, we need to continue the conversation that Keaton started so that we can prevent other children from asking themselves the same question in the future.