Imagine that your child comes home from school one day in tears, locks herself in her bedroom and won’t respond to your questions or concern. When she finally emerges and tells you that the other girls in her class are picking on her, what do you do? No parent finds it easy to watch his or her child suffer, and the instinct to step in and deal with the situation in an adult manner is tempting, however, it is important to give your child the chance to make decisions about how she would like to see the situation resolved. Here are a few guidelines to help parents deal with bullying.
Listen to Your Child
One of the best ways a parent can help his or her child deal with a bully is to simply listen. Real listening means that you turn off the TV, sit down together and resist the urge to control the conversation or offer immediate solutions. Try echoing back what your child says as a way to ensure you are getting the right message, and to show them you are really listening.
Offer Reassurance and Confirm Your Child’s Right to Safety
Bullying is highly threatening behavior and children who are being bullied will often feel unsafe and devalued, especially if the bullying takes the form of social exclusion or gossiping. Parents can help by reminding their child of their basic human rights: nobody has the right to make you feel unsafe, hit you or say things about you that are untrue. Confirming a child’s rights can give him a feeling of strength and reassure him that he didn’t do anything to deserve being bullied.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
As a parent, you will most likely want to know as much as you can about the bully and her behavior. However, bullying can be traumatic and embarrassing, so don’t push your child to tell you more details than she wants to. The best approach you can take is to ask open-ended questions like, “What would you like to see happen?” or “If you could say anything to your bully, what would you say?” Rehearsing situations in which your child responds to the bully in an assertive way gives her a chance to practice new behaviors in a safe place, with a safe person.
If your child is unable to deal with the bully on her own and she wants you to step in and help her resolve the situation, do so in a mature way that provides an example of strong, assertive behavior. Going around to the bully’s house and shouting at her parents is unlikely to improve the situation. If you can, try to involve the teachers and supervisors if the bullying is happening at school, and continue to offer a listening ear and emotional support for your child.
Originally published on Suite101.com on March 4, 2008