Parenting in the Trenches: What To Do When Your Child is Bullied (or Is the Mean Kid)
Recently, I saw a post on Facebook from my best friend who is the mom of a special needs child that absolutely broke my heart. She spotted a teenage girl in the mall mocking her son's movements. As a fellow mom, it's heartbreaking and infuriating to see anyone hurting your child and with so many young adults committing suicide due to bullying, I felt it was time to remind all parents that YOU are the biggest influence in your child's life and the place to stop the bully is at home.
Now, first off I am no psychologist or social worker. I'm just a plain ole mom who happens to write for a living. The only bully I ever really dealt with was at Vacation Bible School (go fig) in the 5th grade but after that week, she was gone. So, I'm not the end-all authority on dealing with the mean girls (or mean boys) of the world. I'd love to hear any more of your suggestions too. In the meantime, here's some things I will keep in my back pocket through the tough years of child rearing ahead.
1. Bullies Beget Bullies
Don't be a bully to your kid because they will turn around and release their inner frustration on other kids. Saying things like, "You're not the boss, I am!" feeds this bully mentality. And, kids are the ultimate mimic machines. If they see you bullying your spouse or in the community, they will follow suit.
2. Remind Your Kids How Much they Are Loved
Whether they are being bullied or are the bullies, they need extra love in their life to overcome the obstacles they face. Spend real, quality time with your children and be affectionate if you can. Hugs and kisses go a long way.
3. Be Involved in Your Child's Life
Don't just drop your kids off at practice and leave every day. A family member found out that a coach was bullying her child at practice because she came early for pick up one day and discovered the abuse for herself. Your child needs to know that you are there, you are present and you care about what they are doing. You are their champion - even into the teenage years - and whether they will admit it or not, they need you.
4. Talk to Your Children
Don't assume your child is fighting off bullies or leading a carefree, happy life. She might be the mean girl or harboring feelings that you don't see. Ask the deep, dark questions - talk calmly through the answers. Also, don't be afraid to be vulnerable. If you lived through a bullying situation, even if you were the bully, share those experiences with them.
5. Be Mindful of Friendships
Okay, so this is grey area - you can't choose your child's friends but you can lead them in the right direction. Encourage friendships that you know will make a positive impact and be lasting.
6. Talk to Other Parents
Become friends with your child's friends' parents and other parents from their activities and school. And, don't ever be afraid to stand up for your child but in a positive way. Don't go in horns blaring and expect a good outcome. Also, if a parent comes to you with a concern, listen and address it. Don't be the parent who refuses to think your child isn't perfect.
7. Know When to Seek Professional Help
Parents don't have all the answers and let's be honest - our kids won't tell us everything. Sometimes, we all need a third party to confide in and help us through a difficult situation. Getting professional help (whether your child is the aggressor or victim) should never be an embarrassment. If you are having problems with your child's other parent, seek professional help for that too because a volatile home relationship can lead to aggressive behaviors.
8. Instill a Moral Compass Over Punishment
Many times (without thinking) we correct using punishment rather than appealing to the moral compass. For example, when a toddler hits another toddler we will make him go sit in timeout instead of talking through the action. Appealing to a child's sense of morality and explaining the concept of 'hurting' both in the physical and emotional sense can go further than punishment.Think: I don't want to do this because it's wrong VS I don't want to do this because I might get punished.
9. Catch Your Kids Doing Something Kind and Tell Them How Proud You Are
We all have a deep desire for our parents to be proud of us. Don't wait for your child to say WATCH ME, WATCH ME. Catch them being genuinely kind and tell them that their behavior made you really proud.
10. Teach Your Child to Stand Up for Himself in a Positive Way and Let Him Know YOU Have His Back
Okay, so going back to number one on this list - if your child is a bully, there is probably a reason why - they feel inadequate in some area. Whether your child is the bully or the victim, they need to learn to stand up for themselves in a positive way. Don't advocate fighting in the parking lot but let your child know that it's okay to stand up for themselves. Also, let them know that you will do whatever is in your power to help them through a situation. Sometimes those solutions are hard; they might have to change schools or you might have to talk to parents but in the end, a happy child is worth it.
BONUS: Encourage Your Children to Seek Out and Show EXTRA Love to Special Kids
My daughter goes to daycare with a little boy who has Down Syndrome. I love that she gets to have this experience because at such a young age, she not only gets to play and interact with a child who is different from her but we also talk about helping him through day-to-day activities that are challenging for him and his mom. It's teaching her compassion but also that being different is the norm.
I hope that my daughter seeks out the people who need a little extra love and won't be afraid to open herself up to them. I also pray that when I have to go through seeing her bullied, because it happens to almost everyone, I will do the right things.
I applaud you, parents. You are in the trenches and every day is a new struggle. Keep loving your kids fiercely and teaching them to love others because YOU are the number one influence in their life.
Again, I welcome your input and hope you will take time to start talking to your children about their actions.