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Years ago I worked with a young boy who reported a different
case of "bullying" to me almost every week. His feelings were hurt almost constantly. He felt like he just didn't fit in and that made lunch and recess
particularly difficult. He felt alone at school.
He was anxious and sad, and frequently complained of
Week after week we processed his feelings, worked on ways to
find a "just right" friend and practiced entering groups. One day, almost like
magic, he found a friend. He and his new friend quickly bonded over favorite
books, karate and video games. They sat together at lunch and played together
at recess, and he no longer felt anxious and alone.
Months later he came to me feeling guilty. He said that he
didn't think he was actually bullied, and that maybe he shouldn't have used that word. The other kids didn't tease
him, taunt him or physically harm him. What they did was exclude him. When he tried to join, they ignored him. When he made
a joke, they didn't laugh. They didn't engage in the classic instances of
bullying that show up in movies and on TV, but, make no mistake, what they did
They intentionally left him out every single day.
It can be hard to talk to kids about bullying, because
sometimes it's difficult to determine when age-appropriate arguments bleed into
bullying. The best thing to do is to keep the lines of communication open and
make time for meaningful conversations with your kids each day. Here's how:
Many kids don't actually understand what bullying is. Talk to your kids about social relationships. Help them understand the give and take
that makes friendships work.
Life is busy, and sometimes we gloss over the deeper
conversations that can occur when we stop what we're doing to prioritize
talking time. When kids see us glancing at screens or attending to other
distractions while they talk, they internalize the message that their words
It's important to help kids understand what bullying looks like (that it's often very covert) and how others feel as a result.
When your kids need to talk, it's really important to
listen. When we prioritize talking time, our kids trust us with their thoughts
and feelings. That leads to greater in-depth discussions about the hard stuff.
Look for resources and learn about the different ways kids
bully so that you can educate your child. Bullying isn't just physical aggression
and threats. Bullying can fall under these categories:
Verbal: This includes teasing, taunting,
name-calling and inappropriate sexual comments.
Social or relational: This can take the form of
leaving someone out on purpose, telling other kids to ignore someone,
embarrassing someone in public or spreading rumors.
Physical: This can include hurting a person or their possessions. Hitting, kicking,
tripping/pushing, and taking or breaking things all fall under this heading.
It's important to help kids understand what bullying looks
like (that it's often very covert) and how others feel as a result.
Childhood is full of ups and downs and is often very confusing.
Even if your child isn't being bullied, negative peer interactions can feel
very overwhelming and upsetting. Empathize with your kids.
When we empower kids to put kindness first, we raise a generation of kids who look out for one another instead of tearing one another down.
Listen to their stories, ask them how they feel, share your
own stories and then move on to problem-solving. Sometimes kids just need a
shoulder to cry on. They aren't always looking for a solution.
Empower your kids to spread kindness. Sure, there are
recommended techniques to help "stop" a bully if a child sees bullying in action
(and we should empower our kids to speak up when something isn't right), but
something kids can do every single day is spread kindness.
Talk to your kids about looking for others who might need
help. Encourage them to invite different kids to sit together at lunch or play
together at recess. Talk about what it feels like when someone is kind and how
it feels to be kind to others.
When we empower kids to put kindness first, we raise a
generation of kids who look out for one another instead of tearing one another
down. Let's teach our kids to lift each other up so that they won't have to be
on the lookout for bullies around every corner.