How to help a child who is being bullied
Question: My child is being bullied. Sometimes he ends up responding to the bullying in a way that makes the bullying worse or that lands him in trouble at school. How can I help him to respond in ways that will be helpful, not harmful?
Answer: First of all, I have to start out by saying that I’m sorry that you and your son are dealing with this difficult and painful situation. It is hard to watch your child being bullied—and it is hard to be the child who is being bullied.
You are wise to want to help your child to figure out the best way of responding to an incident of bullying. He may find that it works well to respond from a position of strength—even if that means working really hard to sound stronger and braver than he actually feels inside—and to identify allies (both friends and teachers) who will be there to support him when he needs it. Bullies look for easy targets. If your son sounds like he is going to stand up to the bullying or look to other people for support, the bully may decide that it’s not worth the effort of picking on your son. That may help to put a stop to the bullying.
Other things to try:
- Help your son to develop his friendship skills, so that he is less vulnerable to being bullied. Treat the world as a social-emotional learning lab. Encourage your child to notice what makes things better or worse in relationships. Then encourage him to connect the dots between what he is observing and how he can apply these lessons to his own life.
- Help your child to understand that conflict in relationships is normal and relationships can be repaired. Talk about the reasons why conflict occurs between people (miscommunication, emotional outbursts, having different perspectives on the same situation) and then help your child to figure out ways to go about repairing a relationship if a conflict has occurred.
- Teach your child to ask for help in a way that strengthens relationships, minimizes conflict, and encourages the other person to want to help. Help your child to develop strong relationships with you, his teacher, and a peer.
Whichever courses of action you take, it’s important to follow up with your child repeatedly. You want to reiterate the fact that you care and that you’re taking the situation seriously—and you want to keep the lines of communication open. You don’t want your son to feel like the situation is hopeless or that he has to deal with this on his own. You need him to know that things can get better and that you will be there to support him every step of the way until they do.
Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including, most recently, Parenting Through the Storm: How to Handle the Highs, the Lows, and Everything in Between.
- Read and share our “Helping a child who struggles with bullying” article
- “Bullying SOS: Support and Strategies for Parents”, a free webinar
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