Let's talk about something serious: bullying. Not only is it hard for kids to admit when it's happening to them, even if they admit it, parents and teachers don't always know what to do. Thoughts flood your mind: Do I step in or let them "build resilience" and handle it themselves? Will they be bullied worse for tattling? How do I know that my kids are safe?
These and other thoughts are totally normal and the truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, there are some ways to get kids talking and processing, ways that provide both support and opportunities to build resilience.
1. Ask questions about the situation and listen to the answers. Ask the child to express how they feel, using emotion words.
2. Validate those feelings!
3. Try to resist the urge to fix the situation, to suggest what worked for you when you were young, etc. The child needs validation and to be heard, first and foremost. Listen. Don't give pat answers or insist you have the right solution.
4. Discuss coping skills to self-regulate – what helps? Talking to a friend? Deep breathing? A sensory toy? Figure out what works for each child, individually.
5. Practice ways the child themselves can resolve the issue – read or watch videos with examples of handling bullying, act out scenarios to practice responding to bullying and how it may play out, and consider martial arts approaches such as Tai Chi, which address handling negative emotions and encounters, such as the Pushing Hands technique (www.beginnerstaichi.com/tai-chi-push-hands.html).
6. Praise the positive behaviors - pick out what the child did right, whether it's speaking up, resisting violent responses, using appropriate coping, etc.
7. Check in with yourself - breathe, remain calm, model positive coping and expression of emotions. Ask your child what they would like you to do. Resist the urge to try to step in or dish out solutions – often this makes kids feel more stressed. They worry about being bullied more for telling, for adults stepping in, etc. They get frustrated hearing advice when they don’t feel like it works. What they want and need is to be heard and for the support to be there, but not be forced on them. It’s hard to see a child be bullied, and to resist stepping right in, so make sure to use your own coping skills as appropriate.
Still feeling a bit lost, or wishing for more resources? We were too, and luckily, an experienced local psychologist who has worked with kids for over 20 years, wrote a children's book aimed at helping kids, parents, and caregivers process bullying. The book, Brian and the Bully, is available on Amazon and what’s more, author Smita Nagpal, PhD, will be at a local café in December, for a reading and discussion on the book and on bullying. Do join us. See flyer below for details.
Thanks for reading, and we hope to see you there!