Am I going to be bullied (again) today?
Think your kid isn’t the kid thinking this quietly in his or her head, feeling the fear? Maybe. But maybe not. And as much as they may want to tell you, kids don’t tell us everything. The fear of being bullied is a real fear that some kids have, everyday, and not just older kids. Younger kids are experiencing bullying as early as the pre-school ages. I remember one of my kids suddenly not wanting to get ready to go to school one morning, and the next morning, and then the next. Before we knew it, it was the end of the week and still, we were having objections to go to school. We approached the teachers, and found out that there was, in fact, a child bullying ours. Why they hadn’t told us is another story, but when we got to the bottom of it, we understood why getting to school in the mornings had become such a challenge.
It’s a real issue kids of all ages deal with all over the world. To understand bullying, we have to understand the motive behind it. Bullying comes in many forms, from an unspoken gesture, to the spoken offensive word or tone, to aggressive physical behaviour. No matter how you express it, if the other person feels threatened, forced, or fearful in any way that harm or insult may come their way, we can interpret this as being bullied. No child should have to have these feelings. No child should have to deal with these kinds of emotions. But they do. Having a conversation with your children about being bullied isn’t an easy one, especially when it’s your child on the receiving end, but it’s a necessary one to have.
You may think that a pre-emptive conversation is worthy, but for some, this may cause unnecessary worry in your child. However, some parents prefer to arm their kids with skills they may need before they actually need them, and to those parents I would say, yes, have that conversation. Same goes for the parents of the child who comes home one day and musters up enough courage to tell you he or she feels like they’ve been bullied. Both conversations will go a similar way.
Start by letting your kids know that people are generally good, kind, respectful, and thoughtful. That we all have good intentions and mean well, but sometimes, what some kids end up saying or doing, isn’t well-intentioned, and this shouldn’t be tolerated. Let your kids know you love and support them, and that any kind of bullying isn’t an acceptable way to get what you want. Explain to your kids why some kids bully—it could be out of jealousy, anger, frustration with things going on with them or their parents, or even an inability to articulate how they feel. Bullying is usually never about the person on the receiving end. Bullying is a symptom, not the cause, and can have its roots in anger, being in an environment that is stressful and not conducive to healthy communication, or not being able to express one’s feelings, thoughts, or wants in an appropriate, effective, or reciprocal and conversational manner.
Let your kids know they’re not in alone. Create a home environment where your kids not only feel physically safe, but emotionally safe, to share the not-so-fun-stuff about what can go on at school, like bullying. Be their loving and supportive ally and save blame and judgement for later. Get your facts first. Speak to the school with your kids. You’re in this together. Schools are big on anti-bullying, and most will side with you about getting to the bottom of what’s happened, and why. Most importantly, tell your kids that they have the power to tell a grown-up about how another child may be treating them, and that it’s ok to tell. Remind your kids that no one has the right to speak nastily or disrespectfully to them, to hurt, or threaten them. Ever. Empower your kids.
As parents, this is our role, to empower our children with ability, confidence, good sense, and love of self. And, to remember that it’s usually not about you. It’s about what’s going on with the other person. Bullies will exist. How we arm our kids to respond to and handle the bully will help them deal with the fear of being bullied, so it won’t be as big a fear any more.