How Can Parents Help Kids Handle Teasing and Bullying?
75% of people report having experienced teasing and bullying.
Some teasing can be friendly but if the person being teased is distressed, it is a problem. While it is a common childhood experience, it is one that should not go unaddressed.
Here are some ways that you can increase the chances of your child telling you and of you addressing it:
Teach your child that it’s not right for anyone to say or do mean things to others
This should be a conversation that you have from early on in your child’s life. Perhaps one sibling says something mean to the other or your child comes home reporting something they heard another child say or do. Don’t brush it off as ‘kids will be kids’, let them know in a calm way that it is not appropriate.
Talk with your child about ways they can help if they see another child being bullied
As children get older, start to have conversations about what they would do if they saw or heard that a friend was being bullied. Who would they tell? How would they help their friend? Debunk myths such as being a tattle-tale and tell them it is important to report instances of other children getting physically or emotionally hurt.
Spend regular time with your child playing, listening and being interested in the things they have to tell you
The better the emotional connection you and your child have, the more likely they are to tell you if they are being bullied. Make sure you have time for them and show interest in them and the things they like.
Encourage your child to tell you if there are things that are upsetting them
If you think something is bothering your child, encourage them to communicate that to you. If they can’t find the words you can suggest writing a note or drawing a picture and leaving it for you. Alternatively help them to think about who else they can talk to whether that be another family member, a good friend, the school counsellor etc.
You may be shocked or upset if your child tells you they are being bullied. However, try to remain calm. Your child wants to know that you are strong enough to hear their problems and children often worry about upsetting their parents.
Let your child know that you are so sorry that they are going through this. Tell them you are glad they told you. For some children it may be helpful to hear if you had similar experiences and how you got through them but make sure you keep the main focus on them.
Consider how best to explain differences to other children
If your child has a physical or mental health characteristic that makes them noticeably different to other children, consider working with your child’s teacher to teach the class about your child’s differences (either with or without them present). Children can be scared of things that seem strange or different to them. Once they understand it, it becomes less scary and they are less likely to tease or bully as a result.
Respect your child’s wishes about how involved to get initially
Depending on the age of your child, respect their wishes if they want to try and resolve it themselves initially. Help them to think about what they can do and whom else they can talk to. Tell them that it is more effective to be assertive than aggressive and that they should not fight back. Check in with them and insist on getting involved only if it is not getting better with their attempts alone.
Let your child know that those who bully often do so because they are not feeling happy inside
While bullies seem strong, they often bully because they are feeling bad about themselves and/or have had some kind of negative experience themselves. While their actions are not right, it may help your child to know that the bully might not actually be feeling as strong as they appear. There are many more excellent resources here.