All parents and caregivers should have a conversation about bullying with school-age children. And according to experts, the sooner this discussion happens, the easier it is for kids to navigate the inevitable aggression and power struggles in school settings. Bullying can begin as early as preschool and traumatize children for decades. But when parents forewarn kids about bullying and prepare them with the tools to manage it, they can learn to treat others with empathy and overcome even the most hostile situations.
Why Do Kids Bully?
It can be heartbreaking to learn that your child was bullied or participated in bullying others. Asking why a child acts aggressively toward other students is an important place to start. Kids bully others for several reasons. This behavior can stem from insecurity, low self-esteem, unresolved anger, or a yearning for power and popularity. Unfortunately, many children learn to rely on hostility because they’re exposed to it at home. Learning more about why a child resorts to bullying can help teachers and parents identify effective ways to stop it.
Tips for Talking to Kids About Bullying
Here are some tips for talking to school-age children (around ages 5-9) about bullying and how to handle it.
Talk About Bullying, Even if it Hasn’t Happened Yet
Talking about bullying, why it happens, and reminding children that they have support at home can lay the groundwork for managing it at school. Even if your child hasn’t yet encountered bullying, it’s important for them to know that it happens, and they can talk about it with you. Preparing them for these situations, either as a target of a bully or as a witness to these confrontational situations, can give them the insight they need to respond appropriately.
Teach Them to Resist the Urge to Join the Herd
When kids are afraid of bullies, it can be easy for them to jump on the antagonizing bandwagon. Many children do this to deflect the bully’s attention and avoid becoming a victim themselves. Let your child know that it’s never okay to tease or torment another student simply because others are doing it. When they have the courage to stand up for others, it can take power away from the aggressor.
Role-Play Appropriate Responses
If your child has encountered a bully at school, it can be beneficial to discuss appropriate ways to respond. As many of us learned in our own childhood experiences, bullies want to get a rise out of you, so reacting with anger or outbursts can make the situation worse. While not every action requires a reaction –it can be just as effective not to engage– kids can benefit from rehearsing suitable responses. Since bullying can be embarrassing and emotional, children need our help formulating reactions that can defuse the situation.
Explain Why Kids Bully
It’s important to remind young children of the reasons why kids might resort to being mean on the playground. For example, “Tommy may be upset about something else, and he’s directing his anger at others. It’s not about you; it’s more about what he’s going through.” It’s not the easiest thing to do, but empathy can disarm a bully and prevent victims from blaming themselves for being targets.
Learn More About Their Social Life
You don’t need to be a helicopter parent to learn more about your child’s social life. Ask them about their friends at school, if they feel comfortable sharing with others, and if there’s anything you can do to help them build a stronger support system.
Remind Them of Their Resilience
Being bullied can be a traumatic experience for a young child, and studies show that victimization can lead to severe mental health issues. Bullies aim to humiliate others, which can be devastating to a child’s self-esteem. You may not be able to influence the bully, but you can foster self-confidence in your child. Remind them of their strength and resilience. They’ll face many challenges in life, but you believe they can overcome each one.
In severe cases of bullying, don’t hesitate to reach out to teachers or administrators at your child’s school. Offering bullying education and intervening early can help children avoid aggressive, disrespectful, or violent behavior.