Let’s talk about the B word: bullying. October is Bullying Prevention Month, and with the first 60 days of a new school year behind us, it’s likely our kids have had a recent brush with bullying in some form or another. As parents, it’s common to think this type of behavior starts in middle school or beyond. But sadly, macroaggressions—the earliest forms of bullying—can start as early as age 3, with girls being more susceptible to teasing.
While bullying can take on many forms (physical, verbal, social, cyber), it is ultimately defined as aggression that is repeated over time and is intended to harm someone. Sadly, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, a startling 1 in 5 school-aged children report being bullied.
If your child tells you they are being bullied, it is instinctual to want to confront your child’s bully or speak with their parents. However, it is important to keep a cool and calm demeanor, be patient, and offer comfort and support when talking to your own child.
While there is no “one size fits all” approach to talking to your child about this tough topic, experts urge parents to listen, offer support, and slowly build a child’s confidence back up.
With that in mind, below we’ve broken down 10 things to say if your child is being bullied. Take note and pass it along to your parent friends!
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 and tell them that you hear them.
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.
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).
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 they are loved, worthy, and deserving of the best opportunities in life.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This post originally appeared in Mother Magazine.