October is National Bullying Prevention Month, but families need to be proactive when talking about the topic with their children. Gone are the days when you could assume your child would never be the victim of a bully while in elementary school. Too often, kids are faced with others bullying them or witnessing a friend being bullied.
Take time to talk
It can be very difficult to talk to your child about bullying. My oldest son faced the reality of bullies in early elementary school. While there are programs at school to help kids recognize when something negative is happening, it may not always be enough. Sometimes children are more comfortable talking to their family at home. Set a time to sit down with your children and ask them about schools, friends, and other in their classes. Some questions to consider:
- Who do they trust? – Get the name of friends, teachers, and other adults at school and beyond that they would talk to about more difficult subjects.
- How do you recognize if you or a friend is being bullied? – Ask if they would feel comfortable helping a friend in need if they are being bullied.
- What steps should you follow if you think someone is bullying you or a friend? – Making a plan ahead of time will help so they may not be as anxious if/when the situation comes up.
Think about each individual child and their age, social/emotional needs, and what would work best for them. Books can ease everyone into the conversation. There are many books on this topic for children from preschool up to high school. There are also cartoons, movies, and television shows that have tackled bullying to watch together and get started.
The no tattle tale zone
From an early age, we tell children not to be a tattle tale. We don’t want them to run over to us to tell us every time something happens with a peer, sibling, or other individual. The problem with this is that we have created an environment where many are too afraid to jump into action to help someone in trouble. Kids will see a bully do something to another child, but they are afraid to speak up. Perhaps they are afraid of getting in trouble for being a tattle tale. Another possibility is that they are worried about the bully getting even with them for saying something.
We must talk to our kids about what is and is not being a tattle tale. They must understand that as a human, helping others is crucial. If they don’t feel comfortable talking directly to the bully in the moment, they need to get help. This is where having a plan for if/when they witness bullying taking place will help kids so they are not as anxious in the moment.
Of course, it is also important to make sure children know what is bullying and what is not. In the heat of the moment, perception and reality can be very different. Playful teasing is probably not bullying, but could develop into more over time. Children with delayed social skills due to special needs may need more time talking about this. They may need to do role playing to understand more of the pragmatics between sarcasm, teasing, and being bullied. Be sure to check in with school to see what they may have covered so you can expand on it or talk with your kids at home to get a feeling for their understanding.
While October is a great time for bullying prevention awareness, any and every day are perfect to check in with your kids on the subject. The more you talk about it from an early age, the easier it will be to keep the lines of communication open when they are tweens and teens.
Do you have any personal experience with bullying? This could be as a child or with your own kids. Please feel free to share in the comments below.