By Lori Orlinsky, children’s book author and Bullying Prevention and Response Trained certified by the CDC.
“Mommy, today at school my friend told me my snack was poison, and she made me throw it away,”
my daughter Hayley said to me as she recounted her day in Kindergarten. “My tummy was rumbling all day.”
A few days later, Hayley told me she was proud to learn a new trick on the monkey bars, but her happiness quickly escalated to sadness when another child pulled her shoes off and used them to play catch with another classmate.
Kids just being kids, right? Not really. The more I thought about these isolated incidents, I realized they were macroaggressions and could lead to full blown bullying. As a parent, I thought we’d have more time to tackle this issue, but it turns out that a startling 1 in 5 school aged children report being bullied, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, so it’s never too early to address this topic.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month and along with that I’m sharing a few guidelines to follow when having the uncomfortable bullying talk with your child – straight from a parent who has been there, and has come out on the other side.
1. Be a shoulder to cry on
Whether your child told you intentionally about being bullied, or it just slipped out in conversation, validate their feelings and let them know that feeling sad, upset or even angry is a natural reaction. Console your child, validate their feelings and tell them that you hear them.
2. Don’t let them play the blame game on themselves
There’s still a stigma attached to bullying that somehow a child brought it on themselves. Tell your child that under no circumstances did they choose to be targeted.
3. Recount your own story
Sadly, we live in a world where bullying is prevalent, no matter what age. Were you bullied as a child, or do you have friends or family who went through a similar situation? Articulate those stories to your child so they can see that unfortunately, they are not alone (but by no means does it make bullying right).
4. Remind them that they matter
Tell your child that they – like everyone else – are important and should be treated with respect. Articulate to your child that that they are loved, worthy and deserving of the best opportunities in life.
5. Shine the spotlight on them
Don’t let bullies dim their light. Pick out some of your child’s best qualities and tell them how it makes them special. Praise your child for their intelligence, personality, appearance and abilities. Celebrate their wins with them, and let them know it is OK to come in second, or even fail (and assure them you will be there for them when they do).
6. Role play with your child
Role play “what if” scenarios so your child feels empowered and confident handling troublesome situations. Reinforce strategies to stay safe, such as always staying on school grounds, near an adult and with buddies.
7. Let your child come up with a plan of action
If the above doesn’t work out, talk to your child about what they’d like to see happen. Is it a sit down meeting with both kids? Should parents be involved? Is this something they’d like to resolve with school administration? Ask your child what will make them feel better about the situation in the end.
8. Empower them to be a voice for others
Now that your child knows what it feels like to feel bullied, encourage them to stand up for others who may be experiencing bullying by reporting the behavior to a trusted adult when they see it.
9. Stress the importance of inclusive environments
Has your child talked about another classmate who is withdrawn? These kids are likely the targets of bullies. Encourage your child to show they care by acknowledging and including them. It can be as simple as inviting them to sit together at lunch, or play together at recess.
10. Make this the start to an ongoing conversation
Schedule an informal “check in” with your child to talk about their friendships at school. Take them out for ice cream, and show genuine interest in their day-to-day life at school.
Lori Orlinsky is a multi award-winning children’s book author, freelance writer and marketing director who lives in Chicago. She is certified by the CDC in Bullying Prevention and Response Training, and is an ambassador for the PACER’s National Bullying Center. Lori is the mother of two little ladies who are small but mighty. Her children’s picture book “Being Small (Isn’t So Bad After All),” is available on Amazon, and at 5″1, she wishes it was around when she was growing up.
*Cover photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels