The more proactive parents can be in educating their children about bullying, the more confident and better-equipped children will be at handling these situations in a positive manner throughout their lives.
School shootings and other violence continue to make students, parents and school staff concerned about school safety. Newscasts often report students saying a school shooter was bullied. Whether or not bullying is a contributing factor in these terrible situations, parents want to know what they can do to help their children if they are being bullied.
To begin, we must understand the definition of bullying. Bullying is hurtful, purposeful behavior that happens over and over again. Bullying can take many forms, such as physical harm, exclusion, ridicule, teasing, threatening and name-calling.
Sometimes these actions happen in regular peer relationships, but it becomes bullying when it happens consistently over time. This can cause a child to refuse to attend school, to have nightmares or to become withdrawn.
There are things you and your children can do if they are being bullied or if they see someone being bullied.
What you and your children can do if they are being bullied:
In any trial, God must be the starting point. Review biblical stories about problems and how God helped His people triumph over wickedness, such as:
- Joseph and his brothers.
- David and Goliath.
- Israel being delivered from Egypt.
Teach your child to “be strong and of good courage” by proactively praying about the situation and believing that God will intervene (Joshua 1:5-7). Help your child learn how to rely on God for help to build these important character traits. Remind your child to say a quick silent prayer for help in the moment when he or she is in a difficult situation.
After reading the action steps below, role-play the difficult situations with your child. Just like practicing for a sport, children need to practice the steps below to become confident using them in the moment. The more prepared they are in handling bullying situations, the more confident they will feel in using the skills when needed.
A great resource for parents is the book Bullyproof Your Child for Life: Protect Your Child From Teasing, Taunting, and Bullying for Good by Joel Haber and Jenna Glatzer.
- Tell the bully to stop. Teach the difference between a brave “I mean it” voice and a scared voice.
- Ignore and walk away. Bullies are typically trying to get a reaction from their victims. Teach your child to stay calm and not react to the bully.
- Laugh. When bullies say something hurtful, teach your children to laugh rather than show their upset emotions. Laughing shows the bully that he or she is not getting the intended reaction.
- Talk to an adult. Encourage your children to talk to an adult they trust at school. It is also helpful for parents to make sure the school is aware of the situation.
- Stay with others. Encourage your child to stay near a peer or an adult at times bullying happens. Bullies tend to pick on kids when they are isolated and alone.
- Build up your child’s self-esteem. Help your child focus on the positive and encourage your child. In the evening, help your child come up with two things that went well that day—write them down and put them on a poster board. Soon it will be filled with the positive things going on in your child’s life.
- Teach positive coping skills. Deep breaths and positive mental “self-talk” can help children react calmly in difficult situations.
- Use bibliotherapy. Children’s literature is a great source of teaching strategies and helps to normalize feelings. Check at the library for books to read with your child, such as:
- The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill and Laura Huliska-Beith.
- King of the Playground by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Nola Langner Malone.
- Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell and David Catrow.
- Stop Picking On Me (A First Look at Series) by Pat Thomas and Lesley Harker.
What your children can do if they see someone being bullied:
- Stand up for the victim. Victims feel friendless when being bullied. If it is safe, stand next to him or her and say to the bully, “That sounds like bullying, and we don’t do that at our school.”
- Step in and offer help. Invite the bullied child to play or eat with you at lunch. This takes the child out of the situation without making him or her feel bad.
- Talk to an adult. If you know when and where bullying happens (such as the bathroom, cafeteria, hallways, etc.), tell an adult about it, every single time. This will hopefully provide more supervision to prevent bullying.
Although we wish we could prevent our children’s life trials, we do have a way to protect them—going to God first and teaching our children to do the same. If we give our children strategies such as these to use in overcoming difficult peer situations at an early age, then they will have the tools they need to handle difficult situations as they grow into adults.
For additional reading, see “How to Make Friends,” “Dealing With Difficult People,” “Toxic Friendships,” “Saying No,” “Proverbs 26: When Should You Answer a Fool?” and “Words That Hurt, Words That Help.”
Shannon Foster, a certified school counselor, and her husband, Eddie, attend the Cincinnati/Dayton, Ohio, congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.