Starting the conversation: Talking to your kids about bullying
Kids will be kids. This saying can ring true in so many circumstances: little children having a tantrum, boys wrestling around during a neighborhood football game, teenagers stomping off mad. But some actions don’t fall into this category.
Bullying is one of them.
Bullying is a growing concern among kids and even among adults. We all can make a dedicated effort to eliminate bullying in our communities.
What is bullying?
In simple terms, bullying is unwanted behaviors that cause harm to another. Aggressive behaviors toward another person happen physically, online through words (i.e. cyber-bullying), among groups, and to isolated individuals. The spectrum ranges from physical contact to intentional exclusion. Kids can encounter bullying at school, over social media or at any event. Adults may even experience it at work.
Creating awareness and controlling behaviors
Everyone can experience bullying as a victim, an instigator, or an innocent bystander. Overall, there are generally more victims than there are bullies. The actions of a bully impact the target victim as well as that person’s friends, parents, teachers, school staff, colleagues and community. Take an active stance with the following promises:
- Talk to kids and know their friends and peers. Ask questions about school: Who did you eat lunch with? How was the bus ride? Remain calm when asking and encourage the conversation rather than demand it. Trust they will talk when they are ready.
- Share different examples of bullying. Help your kids identify what bullying looks like. Are jokes about someone at school bullying? YES. Can teasing lead to bullying? YES. Are rumors a form of bullying? YES. Explain to kids that words can be just as damaging as physical roughness. Kids can play many roles in bullying.
- Establish a zero tolerance policy for bullying, and make good on that rule. Model kind behavior and lay out consequences of being involved in bullying. Next, enforce those rules. Guide good choices at home that apply to all of life’s choices and decisions.
- Stay engaged. Browse your children’s school website and read the flyers that come home. Volunteer. Attend parent/teacher conferences and ask good questions about your child and the class. Meet other parents so you can know more about their families, values and behaviors.
Teach kids to stand up for themselves and others
Kids need help understanding bullying: what is it, why it happens, and how to deal with it. Bullying is not a result of something the victim did. Help them know how to respond and stand up for others.
Kids need a trusted source to talk to when bullying is a concern. This can be a parent, an older sibling, a counselor at school or a coach. The important thing for kids to understand is if a behavior doesn’t feel right, they can feel safe telling someone.
Kids also need to know they have choices. They can walk away. They can deflect behaviors and words with humor or by purely ignoring. Despite their response, it’s still very important to report the situation to a trusted adult.
Most importantly, there are consequences of bullying at home, at school and in society. Bullying can result in cancelled events and plans. It can lead to even more long-term consequences, as it has in New Jersey at Sayreville High School. The high school football team cancelled their season due to alleged bullying. For some, this may just mean a few games are cancelled. To others, it could mean the end of a college scholarship for football or even criminal charges. There are laws against bullying. The saddest result of bullying: it tears apart communities, friends and families. Bullying hurts people emotionally and physically. It is not forgotten.
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