Is your child the target of bullying?

You can help kids develop strategies to keep themselves safe in the face of bullying behaviors.

One of the most difficult situations for parents is finding out that their child is the target of hurtful language and behaviors by others. When these behaviors are intentional, repeated over time and reflect a power imbalance within the relationship, it may be considered bullying. It’s often scary for parents and caregivers because bullying can have serious consequences for those targeted, including physical injury, social and emotional distress – and even death.

Michigan State University Extension says that bullying can contribute to feeling powerless for those who are targeted. This sense of feeling powerless can lead to intense feelings of fear, sadness and anger and can be quite traumatic for young people – as well as for the family members who care about them.

Helping kids build resiliency in the face of challenging situations like bullying is extremely important to their overall health and well-being. Resiliency is the inborn capacity that humans have for “self-righting” and bouncing back in the face of difficult situations and adversity. Research shows that feeling safe, knowing what to expect and not being overwhelmed are important aspects of building resiliency in the face of risk and adversity.

Here are suggestions for helping your child build resiliency in the face of bullying and other challenging situations:

  • Listen to your child. Let them know that you are there for them and that you will help them think about ways to keep themselves safe.
  • Provide a warm, nonjudgmental environment. Remind your child that it’s not their fault and no one deserves to be bullied or treated in mean-spirited ways.
  • Let your child know that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Being involved with bullying situations can trigger shame which breeds secrecy. Encourage your child to talk openly about what’s happening, with you and others that they trust.
  • Talk to adults in the school or other setting where your child is being targeted. Let them know that you are concerned and that you want to work with them to help keep your child safe. Connect with a trusted adult in the setting (such as a teacher, counselor or youth worker) who could be a safe person for your child to connect with if needed. Also work with the setting’s adults to increase adult supervision in places where your child is at risk for being targeted. These might include the school bus, playground, locker room and other “hot spots” where bullying often occurs.
  • Help your child learn to set and maintain clear boundaries. This means developing the ability to say “no” appropriately and to stand up for oneself when necessary. People who bully others may be less likely to approach strong kids with good boundaries; instead they seem to seek out those who seem defenseless. Help your child learn to stand up in assertive rather than aggressive ways.
  • Provide opportunities for your child to develop healthy and supportive friendships and to develop feelings of belonging. Help your child learn about the difference between “fitting in” and belonging. At the core, belonging is about love and connection. On the other hand, the pressure to fit in is usually shame-based and is really about “becoming who you need me to be in order to be accepted.”
  • Help your child develop a safety plan. Having a safety plan can help to prevent problems and contributes to feelings of confidence and safety. It’s like having a safety plan in your “back pocket” ready to go when you need it. Brainstorm with your child ideas for their safety plan such as talking to an adult, staying near people you trust, not engaging with those doing the bullying and taking several deep breaths.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of deep breathing. Teach your child that becoming more self-aware, noticing their intense feelings, slowing themselves down before responding and taking several deep breathes are powerful ways to keep themselves emotionally safe in the face of difficult situations like bullying. Help your child learn to notice their internal experiences and respond to bullying from the inside out.
  • Take good care of yourself, too. Notice your own intense feelings about the reality that your child is being targeted. Reach out to those you trust for a listening ear and model good self-care of yourself.

Feeling physically and emotionally safe is critically important to tapping and building resiliency. Research shows that while we are born with this internal strength, it can be helped or hindered through the environments we’re in. Help your child build resiliency by asking yourself, “What would be the most nurturing thing I can do for them in the face of this challenging situation.” Then do your best to respond from your deepest, wisest self.

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