Recently, I found out that the oldest child has been getting bullied at school. My oldest child is four — nearly five — and I naively thought that I wouldn’t have to deal with bullying at least until she was older. In my experience, 4 or 5 year old kids are more tolerant and loving than older kids. But with that tolerance comes an honesty that can hurt. Sometimes kids as young as 4 or 5 may say things to other kids because it is what they believe or what they have seen. Even the youngest of the school-aged children can still hurt other kids through name calling or the very act of exclusion.
When my oldest child told me that another kid in her class called her a bad name, I was immediately put on high alert, my shackles raised as my brain started working overtime wondering how best to approach this situation. As someone who has been a victim of bullying, I can tell you that just ignoring it doesn’t always help. I’d like to say that it does, because that is what nearly every adult told me to do. But it doesn’t help when you are the one getting bullied at school. Another solution would be physically fight or to call them names, but that doesn’t work either. By pairing violence with more violence, you are suggesting that it is okay to be violent. You are suggesting that two wrongs do make a right, when really it doesn’t.
It’s hard to say what the right solution is when your kid is getting bullied at school. I don’t think that there is even the right thing to do just because every child and every situation is different. But this is what I did and what I think we should remind children who have been getting bullied at school.
What You Should Do if Your Child is Getting Bullied at School
1. Listen to your child
The first thing you should do is to simply listen to your child. By listening, they feel validated and heard. By listening, the child is no longer keeping the incident bottled up inside, but rather expressing it to a safe person. Even if the safe person doesn’t necessarily have the power to completely stop the situation from happening ever again, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the child feels comfortable and safe enough to share what happened. I believe that most bullying situations only get worse when it is kept inside because of the fear of shame.
Another thing that listening does is that it shows your child that you are on their side. From that moment on, your child knows goes from being the sole victim to someone with a support system or a team. I think that is even more important as the child gets older as the one-way listening can become effective two-way communication.
2. Give them a hug
After listening to your child, the next thing you should do is to give them a hug. Hugging your child helps to reinforce the notion that you are further validating them. You are telling them, without words, that everything will be okay. Hugs are pretty powerful. They are the ultimate way that you say express love without saying anything. In fact, I would even argue that hugging is the best way to show love. This article argues the case that hugs may be able to cure a bully’s wrath.
3. Offer positive affirmations
As I mentioned above, I don’t think that ignoring or fighting back really helps in the long run. In my experience, when you ignore a bully, then that rarely helps. If anything, it drives the bully to keep saying the negative words just so they can get a rise out of you. Even if you ignore (or try to ignore) what they say, there is still not an impenetrable force surrounding you. The words still make an impact and can still hurt intensely, even if you try not to show it. And then, there’s the matter of fighting back. I don’t think that’s right. Even if it may feel good to say something back or do something physical, it would only serve to create two long lasting antagonistic foes whose only mission is to constantly battle it out (think Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter).
What I think is the most perfect arsenal to fighting or preventing bullying from having a lasting impact is by having high self-esteem and self-confidence. By genuinely liking yourself, as well as being confident about your own abilities, then that in itself can be the weapon that you can use to ward off any assaults that get thrown at you. By telling yourself positive affirmations on a nearly daily basis, you can help to rid your brain of the negative thoughts that cycle through, and replace them with the positive.
I think we can all agree that getting bullied at school is hard for all parties. It is hard to say what is the right way to handle it as it varies depending on the individual child and the situation. But I think that as long as the parent listens to the child, provide validation, and offer positive ways to combat the negativity, then bullying can be overcome and hopefully won’t make such a lasting negative impression.