My son had a very difficult year in a new school. He walked in trying not to fit the culture and bought a one-way ticket to bullying. Unfortunately, many of our children buy that ticket. It’s the cost of standing out among the crowd. As concerned parents, we often receive explanations – but few solutions – from school administrators. Schools frequently seem more focused on protecting the privacy of the perpetrators than resolving the issue. So parents are left with the confounding obligation of protecting their own child from bullying of all kinds including physical, social and cyber. Why is teaching anti-bullying skills important? Because bullying continues throughout life and can be experienced among adults in the workplace, in families among in-laws and in any situation in which there is an imbalance of power.
Remember: your child may be continually experiencing physical or emotional pain, and they are not telling you because they believe that you and other adults are powerless to protect them. But you aren’t. Here are three steps you can take to help:
1. Insist on open communication about bullying.
A child does not realize that a problem shared with you is empowering. You have experiences and coping skills from your school days that they don’t know. Most children and teens are not insightful enough to recognize that bullying is not new. True, it is a different game because social and cyber bullying have stolen a child’s safe haven outside of school, but there are still old school solutions that work to reinforce you child’s self-esteem and balance that imbalance of power. So, do not let your child fight this battle alone. Explore their thoughts, nurture them, and work on building self-esteem and the perspective that this too shall pass. Talk to your child to build an understanding about bullying and empowerment.
2. Create opportunities for your child to develop friends and allies.
The more you can balance the imbalance of power that drives bullying, the better able your child will be able to cope with bullying behavior. Friends and other like-minded people in the school environment offer protection from low self-esteem, isolation and targeting. Use the summer to build relationships with children that will help uplift your child when future bullying knocks them down. A positive environment puts harsh words and bullying into perspective. Help your child create that positive environment this summer. Host gatherings, encourage texting and communication with positive peers, and help your child build a network. Even one good friend can be the difference between feeling hopeless and feeling a sense of belonging.
3. Encourage your child to develop connections that cross different class, social groups and power circles.
Summer is often the time when teams practice and initiate new member. Teams and clubs offer a community that can insulate your child from the bullying behavior of smaller groups or classmates. Allow your child to be seen in group activities and be valued by others. Remember: football, basketball and baseball are not the only choices. Let your child find a place to belong and a community of diverse students to identify as his or her peers. Bullying can be diffused by changing how your child relates to the school community. So, take advantage of those summer clubs, camps and activities.
We never want our child to experience bullying, but we know they will. In rare cases, the worst outcomes of violence against others or themselves can occur. Yet, as parents, we can empower our children to protect their self-esteem and combat the negativity of bullying by helping them develop meaningful friendships, a positive environment and a community that values their contributions.