The first step that parents must take, whether dealing with somebody bullying their child, or whether their child may be engaging in the bullying behavior him( or her!)self, is to take it absolutely seriously. It can hardly be argued or defended nowadays that bullying is “just a part of growing up”. It is *NOT*. Studies have shown, and children themselves have reported, as have parents and medical and education professionals, that the impact of bullying on self-esteem, anxiety, school attendance, school performance – even the physical health (unrelated to any type of hands-on confrontation – which is not bullying, by the way, but *assault*) as well as both the short-term and long-term emotional health of bullying victims is no small matter. It is not a joke. It is not a rite of passage. It is important that we understand we are indeed social creatures, for better and for worse. The “better” is that we form communities with strong ties bound by an often fierce and protective loyalty.
The “worse” is that we form groups and communities with strong ties bound by an often fierce and protective loyalty.
It is this loyalty which, by *definition*, is exclusive of “the other” that is behind the drive towards actions that ostracize and target specific individuals. It is precisely this temptation toward exclusivity, and the myriad manifestations (that is, bullying) that are so immensely deleterious to the individual psyche.
Without understanding this very elemental etiology, most efforts to curb bullying, and any attempts to arm and empower those who fall victim to it, will be minimally effective, if at all.
Fortunately, there is a LOT you can do to steer your own child away from predatory behavior, and likewise to support your child so that s/he will not fall prey.
1. LISTEN. If your child comes to you with fears, please do not dismiss them with a pat on the head, a squeeze of the shoulders and a “you can do it”. These are wonderful – but they absolutely must not replace the active and intuitive intervention of the adult who knows and loves this child most!
2. BE THERE! When your child has a problem, BE AVAILABLE and approachable. She wants to be able to come to you without fearing being dismissed, or shushed or even spanked away out of irritation from a parent who is overwhelmed with whatever that day. Your child is already anxious. Don’t be ANOTHER source of trepidation and confusion.
3. HAVE YOUR SHOES READY. In other words, be ready and willing to step in. I’ll say it again, while it is of course important to help your child become self-reliant and confident in his ability to handle his own problems, there are those times and those problems that are just too big for a young person to tackle alone. Sometimes the one set of footprints in the sand must belong to YOU.
4. ENCOURAGE your children to be inclusive of others – and reinforce this basic attitude and lifestyle by your own example. Don’t be the parents who bad-mouth the guest who just left your Thanksgiving table. Your kids WILL notice.
5. WALK YOUR TALK. If your child is behaving badly or meanly, resist the pull of denial. Own the problem and take responsibility for your child and his discipline. It is NOT okay for you to laugh it off when he picks on a kid. Nip it *now*.
6. EAT DINNER TOGETHER! Okay – maybe you do not have to, or indeed cannot take this literally – although the literal interpretation is beautiful. But the point is to have a dedicated place and time to have family conversations. Even if your child is not the most talkative, especially as the teen years may be knocking (or have already let themselves in!), having the venue or forum to discuss things is important. And again – set the example. TALK! Be willing to open up a bit. Share the burdens and the joys, as is appropriate, and you WILL be stronger and closer.
7. Then, as you’ve talked and opened up the lines of communication, refer back to number 1. Listen.
LISTEN. It is the most important thing you can do.