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How to Talk To Your Child about Bullying
By Lena Fields-Arnold
It was 1970 something and while it wasn’t my first experience with bullying it was certainly my most memorable.
I was about nine years old and I was being bullied by a neighborhood boy and it was threatening to take an ugly turn. I raced home in search of my father who I knew would protect me from this bully, only to find the door locked and him looking at me from the other side of the door.
“You cannot come back in until you have stood up to the bully. Now go back and fight.” That was when I learned he had been watching the whole time and also that there would be no rescue for me. I was on my own.”
It sounds like my father was being cruel, but that’s how many parents taught you to stand up against bullies back then. For many years I thought he had made the right decision because over the years if I encountered a bully that’s just what I did. Not only did I stand up for myself, but I often stepped in on behalf of others who were being bullied.
It wasn’t until I became a parent that I began to wonder if he’d really made the right call. Was there another way it could have been handled that didn’t require a litte girl fighting in the street with another boy?
See because here’s the thing. The bullying didn’t end with that fight. Not only would we fight over and over again over a period of several years, but another neighborhood boy started in, followed by another and I found myself constantly fighting, and growing more angry with each encounter. One of the the three boys stopped when my mom discovered him trying to bully me and she chased him home with a broomstick to his backside. He never bothered me again.
I often wonder what might have happened had my father stepped in at that moment and did something similar. I can state for a fact, as a person who grew up fighting-A LOT-it’s no fun. It is a terrible feeling to go outside each day, never knowing if today will be the day you wind up in another fight. There is no pleasure in spending your childhood wondering if the bullying will ever end. Frankly, it’s kind of terrifying going through life believing that no adult will step in to help you and that you are on your own.
I know my father thought he was teaching me to be strong. I understand he believed he was helping me see that you had to take care of yourself because you can’t count on other people to be there for you. I firmly believe that he believed it would be good for me.
I wonder though, if inadvertently he actually taught those boys that they could treat me badly because there would be no consequences for them? See because many, many, years later a neighborhood boy thought he could treat my daughter that way and he got a quick lesson from her parents that he most definitively COULD NOT! He made the wise choice to not come to our yard to play and to leave our daughter alone.
Our children will stand up for themselves when they need to, but they also know they have advocates who will be there to ensure that their childhoods are as stress free as possible.
It’s our job as parents to protect our children and parents, school staff, and other caring adults have a role to play in preventing bullying. StopBullying.GOV provides concrete advice to parents to help with bullying. Some advice includes talking to your kids and teaching them how to stand up safely, making sure they understand what bulling is, and letting them know that help is available when they need it, especially when bullying is cycling past a safe point.
Your kids need to know you are there for them. My father and I never talked about what was happening in my life after that day. He probably thought the bullying had ended. It didn’t. It just made me believe I was alone. Fortunately I was strong (physically, mentally, and emotionally) I come from strong stock, as the old folks used to say, but I feel bad for the kids who don’t have my physical strength, or emotional resiliency. Those kids never fight back or can’t fight back. They are constantly beaten, and they give up. Some end up on drugs or commit suicide. This is sad, because bullying is preventable and solvable.
As adults, we must openly discuss bullying and encourage kids to speak to a trusted adult if they are being bullied or see others being bullied. Like grandpa, we can offer comfort and support, as well as give helpful advice. We can help them solve the problem themselves, and we can step it when it spirals beyond the scope of their control.
In the Focus on the Family article “Back to School with Purpose,” the authors cite research telling us that children really do look to parents and caregivers for advice and help on tough decisions. The article offers concrete advice on how to start conversations with our children. With regard to the specific topic of bullying some questions to ask are:
- What does “bullying” mean to you?
- Describe what kids who bully are like. Why do you think people bully?
- Who are the adults you trust most when it comes to things like bullying?
- Have you ever felt scared to go to school, outside, or to an event, because you were afraid of bullying? What ways have you tried to change it?
- What do you think parents can do to help stop bullying?
- Have you or your friends left other kids out on purpose? Do you think that was bullying? Why or why not?
- What do you usually do when you see bullying going on?
- Do you ever see kids at your school being bullied by other kids? How does it make you feel?
- Have you ever tried to help someone who is being bullied? What happened? What would you do if it happens again?
Kids do need to stand up to bullies, and sometimes that may mean fighting them, but that should not be the first line of defense against a bully. Often the bullying will stop when a person stands up for themselves, but it’s not a guarantee the bullying will end. It ultimately stops when an adult gets involved and helps the young person deal with and manage the conflict in acceptable ways.
Research shows that “When adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior, they send the message that it is not acceptable… this stops bullying behavior over time.” (E. 2015)
So let me tell you how my story ended. The scene in Jackie’s Way, where she was in Renaldo’s kitchen (not his name in real life) was real. That actually happened to me and it terrified me because that was the moment that I realized if something didn’t change one of us was going to be hurt really badly or wind up dead.
I made the conscious decision to try to figure out another way to deal with this conflict. I wish I could say I had a grandpa to ask. I didn’t. I did however have faith. I was raised to believe that there was a God who cared about our problems and who would step in and help if we asked. I can’t say it was a deep moment like I went to church and fell on my knees and saw a vision or something super spiritual like that. No it was really a simple moment when I just whispered, “I need help. Something has to change.”
The change began in me.
- The first thing I did was resolve to not put myself in a situation in harm’s way on his turf. I would no longer go to his house to play with his sisters. They would come to my house, or we’d play on neutral territory.
- I would no longer allow myself to be goaded into fights with him.
- I would ignore his taunts and not let them get to me internally.
- I would only defend myself if it became absolutely necessary.
- I would tell my broom wielding mom what was going on.
Want to know what the most ironic thing was? This same bully later came to my defense in high school when someone said something out of line to me. How about that! Today that former bully is a preacher who teaches love, respect, and care for others.
As a parent, the most important thing you can do for your child when talking about bullying is to let them know they are not alone.
Bullying can be an incredibly isolating experience, and many victims feel that they are alone–that something about them, specifically, has brought this on. Explain to your child that bullying is something that can happen to anyone: boys, girls, preschoolers, high schoolers, kids’ at large schools and kids at small schools. This means there is a large group of people impacted by bullying, and if we all work together, we can certainly make a difference. (M. Deziel. 2013)
Back to School With Purpose. (2015, July 10). Retrieved August 02, 2017, from http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/schooling/bullying/how-to-deal-with-bullying.aspx
Bullying. (n.d.). Retrieved August 02, 2017, from http://www.parents.com/kids/problems/bullying/
Deziel, M. (2013, October 07). How To Talk To Your Child About Bullying. Retrieved August 02, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/07/how-to-talk-to-your-child_0_n_3984511.html
- (2017). How to Talk About Bullying. Retrieved from https://www.stopbullying.gov/prevention/talking-about-it/index.html
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