Trying to figure out how to talk about bullying with your kids? Sadly, the conversation has become more necessary than ever. Children target other children for a variety of reasons. This can leave your kids feeling unsafe in school or other settings. Having an honest conversation about bullying is so important
Talking About Bullying With Your Kids
Disclaimer – It is important to have this conversation before bullying begins. If you are concerned for your child’s safety due to bullying, advocate for them and make a plan to get them safe.
What is Bullying?
According to Stopbullying.gov, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”
I have to say, I love the explanation of a power imbalance. When one child makes another feel small and unsafe, they are bullying them.
Why do kids bully other kids?
Bullying can come from a variety of factors. Understanding these things can help you to educate your child in how to be kinder to their peers. Many believe that a child who chooses to bully is simply cruel. While that may feel true, it’s not the only reason. Here are a few reasons children bully.
- Insecurity – Many children who choose to bully other children struggle with insecurity in how they are as a person. They have something about themselves that leaves them feeling less than. Instead of dealing with that insecurity, they try to validate themselves at the expense of someone else.
- Home life – A child’s home life is a huge contributor to how they behave in social settings. If they are feeling unsafe or bullied at home they may be more likely to bully in social settings. Similarly, if they have been taught that certain behaviors are normal and acceptable they may be more inclined to do them to others.
- Social status – Another key reason children bully is to fit in with other children. There is this need to fit in that drives kids. When they are trying hard to fit in they will be unkind to people who are deemed as a public target or deemed less popular.
- Control – For some children, bullying is a way of reclaiming control when they feel out of control. Bullying gives them the illusion that they are in control of something when other parts of their life feel out of control.
How to talk about bullying with preschoolers
You may think that preschoolers don’t fully understand bullying. They may not understand the term bullying but bullying behaviors can definitely start in the preschool age range. In fact, at this age the way that bullying is handled will inform a great deal of how a child handles future social situations. Take the time now to discuss some of the following things with your preschooler.
- Talk about consent. – It is never too early to start conversations around consent. in preschool this will look more like, “that’s friend’s body. Does friend want you to touch them? If not, we don’t touch them. If someone doesn’t want to be touched, we don’t touch them. Do you not want to be touched? If someone is touching you when you don’t want to be touched, find an adult.”
- Talk about feelings. – When talking about bullying with preschoolers focus on feelings. Speaking with a preschooler about how they feel or how their peers might feel in a situation can be so helpful. Help them to connect the feelings of their child with their own feelings.
- Discuss safe adults. – At this age, children are more likely to try and solve problems on their own and have a hard time communicating with friends. It can help to teach them that there are safe adults they can go to in these situations. Point out teachers, class leaders, and other people who are safe.
How to talk about bullying with elementary and middle school children
- Talk about consent. – In elementary and middle school the conversation about consent continues. It’s important to have honest discussions about when it is and is not ok to put our hands on someone. Help your children to understand physically bullying someone is not acceptable and if someone puts their hands on them, this is also not acceptable.
- Talk about social groups. – One of the biggest areas for bullying in this age range is within social cliques. Being left out is one thing. Being targeted is completely different. Help children to understand their value and to understand when it is unacceptable to leave someone out in order to hurt them.
- Discuss virtual bullying and its implications. – Bullying isn’t just a choice made in person. As you get into the older ages, you will find that the bulk of bullying is happening digitally in text messages, social media conversations, and even in group chats. Take some time to have an honest conversation about how to interact with others online in the right way. (Make sure to point out that feelings are still real even if you aren’t face to face. Sometimes kids disconnect their peer’s feelings from them when talking digitally.)
- Help them understand the consequences of bullying. – Bullying has emotional and mental health implications for the person being bullied. Take some time to talk about the consequences. It can help to point out that not only are they hurting someone but they are leaving damage on their heart that outlives the unkind comments/behaviors.
How to talk about bullying with high schoolers
Bullying in high school takes on a whole new depth. As teens get closer to adulthood, the insults and mocking become more intense. At this age insults can be deeply personal and target the very core of their being. Spending time talking about bullying with high schoolers is incredibly important! The lack of this conversation can be incredibly harmful. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Talk about consent. – Consent continues to be an important conversation in high school. As teens start to explore social, emotional, and even physical/sexual boundaries the conversation about consent becomes even more important. Talk about the fact that someone’s body is their own and no is no at any point in the conversation. Explain that they are not to violate someone else’s consent. If someone ever violates theirs, teach them who to reach out to and how to get help.
- Discuss the far reaching consequences – High school is when consequences of bullying can be more long term. This can include suspension, expulsion, and even legal charges depending on the approach and severity of the bullying. It’s important to discuss these with teens. It’s also important to talk to them about the fact that bullying can be a contributing factor to suicide and we need to be cautious about negatively impacting someone else’s mental health.
- Discuss the importance of identity. – One of the biggest themes of high school is identity. The question “who am I and how do I fit in this world” is asked by most high schoolers. When talking about bullying with teens it helps to remind them of the fact that their peers are also asking this question frequently. Help them to see that how they speak to their peers can secure or break their identity. If they are the ones being bullied, take some time to help them remember that these people don’t define them and help them to identify who they are and what their value is.