We read about it in the headlines. A child has committed suicide. All fingers point to being bullied at school.
Bullying is a hot topic in any parenting circle. None of us want our children to be bullied, but are we demonstrating kindness in how we interact with other people? Are we teaching our children how to handle bullies?
A little over four years ago, when our daughter was in first grade, she was bullied by another boy in her class.
We’ve held countless meetings in the principal’s office, met with the boy’s mother, but there seems to be no resolution to the problem. This incident occurred prior to our daughter’s diagnosis, or we would’ve made sure to include a plan in place within her IEP or 504 Plan.
Her son had behavioral problems at home and was known amongst his peers to be physically aggressive towards others.
What leads to this kind of behavior when a home appears to be stable?
I personally believe it’s the lack of demonstrating kindness and coping skills on how to process and handle difficult emotions.
We teach our children how to interact with others in the way we engage with people. We all want to be kind and raise kind children, but are we demonstrating that? How are you and I living that out?
- Do you tell your children that it’s okay to share their feelings, but they never witness you sharing yours?
- Do you tell your children it’s okay to cry, but don’t want them to see you crying?
- Do you tell them that it’s okay to be sad, angry, frustrated and show them ways to cope with those emotions?
- How do you process anger? Or, do you allow it to eat you up inside?
When our daughter shared with us that she was being bullied at school, we were ill-equipped to handle it. We asked her how long it’s been going on, and she informed us that it started at the beginning of the school year (we found out three months before the end of the school year).
My immediate response was, “why didn’t you tell us sooner?” And the minute those words left my mouth, I felt immense guilt.
Think about the implications of my question, I was implying that she was wrong for not telling us sooner. I should’ve expressed how awful I felt for not noticing signs of bullying nor talking to her about bullying at school.
I should’ve assured her that she did the right thing by confiding in us.
I encourage you to speak with your child early on about what bullying is. Young children may not understand that they are being bullied. They may not be aware of what actions they should take following an incident. They may not know that they need to inform a teacher or a trusted adult immediately and inform you of the situation.
Some kids are afraid of being a “tattle-tale” and we have to nib that childhood way of thinking early on.
You are not tattling when someone is teasing you, embarrassing you, or touching you in any way that makes you feel uncomfortable.
In our daughter’s case, this student would make fun of her to get his friends to laugh and would pull her hair. (I managed to digest the news without expressing to our daughter that I wanted to give this boy’s mother a piece of my mind, and scare the daylights out of him if he ever laid a hand on her again.)
We allowed her to talk through difficult emotions.
Our kids just want to express their feelings and we want to give them that safe space to do so.
As parents, we have the tendency to want to fix things, but we also have to allow them the space to process. Talking through how a traumatic incident affects you to someone who isn’t going to judge you is therapeutic. It allows us to identify and fully come to terms with what happened. And, ultimately, brainstorm ways to resolve the conflict.
In our case, after countless meetings with the principal and the student’s mother, the best solution was to separate him physically from her. He was not allowed to sit next to her, be near her in line or at recess. The distance was the best solution we could come up with because he had behavioral problems that left his own mother baffled and unsure of how to handle the situation.
We discussed different ways bullying can occur. It could be something that someone says or does to you. It’s not always physical. But it’s important to identify it, to tell that person to stop, and if they continue, to inform the teacher so they can help resolve the issue.
Our daughter will oftentimes inform us that being different is hard. And we affirm that. Because being different is hard. Being a kid in this generation where bullying doesn’t just happen in the school playground or on the bus, but on social media where they can’t escape from their bullies is every parent’s nightmare.
We all want security and to feel valued. When our children experience bullying their sense of security is taken away from them, along with their sense of self-worth.
When people laugh at you, make fun of you, constantly pull your hair, or touch you in an inappropriate way, you feel helpless, fearful, and if left unresolved these emotions can lead to depression and thoughts of suicide. Thoughts of “nobody notices me,” “I’m ugly,” “I’m stupid,” “I’m not worthy,” emerges.
How can you help your child regain their sense of security?
1. Allow them the space to process. Being there for them is incredibly important. If they are open to it, have them meet with the school counselor or seek an outside therapist to help them process their emotions.
2. Don’t make them feel guilty for not standing up for themselves, and don’t tell them what YOU would do instead. They already feel awful about themselves, and the situation. They don’t need to add guilt into the mix. We learned this one the hard way. I felt immense guilt the minute I asked our daughter why she didn’t stand up for herself. Please don’t make the same mistake I did.
3. Teach them practical ways they can stand up for themselves. Practice ways to tell someone to “shove it” “stop” “it’s none of your business” “it’s not funny.” Our daughter has a sweet nature about her, and it scares her to practice these skills. She’s very compassionate, and it’s against her natural tendency to stand up for herself. But over time and with practice, she has gotten better about it and calling someone out when they’re being rude and hurtful.
- If your child is uncomfortable with standing up for themselves, have them role play. Pretend to be characters from a movie they really enjoy. Our daughter really loves High School Musical, so we pretend that she’s Gabriella Montez and I’m Sharpay Evans.
- We discussed “what if” scenarios. What would you do if someone calls you stupid? What if someone pushes you or calls you mean names? Etc.
4. Teach them how to love themselves, their bodies, and who God has made them be. Positive affirmations are so important. There is nothing fluffy about mindset work.
Our thought life greatly impacts how we feel about ourselves. How we feel about ourselves affects our overall being.
- Just like us, children who develop mindfulness techniques are happier people. People who feel good about themselves and their lives are less susceptible to negative thought patterns that ultimately lead to low self-esteem, depression, or even suicide.
- Don’t allow others to speak negatively about them. This is so important. I don’t care if it’s your sister, brother, even your mother-in-law. In our house, we speak life. We build people up. Our daughter has been teased for being wide around the waist, and even in loving fun, we don’t allow adults in her life to bring her down.
- I’ve had to correct other adults for teasing her about her weight or being overly sensitive. It doesn’t matter if they’re just joking. Our kids don’t know that. But that’s your job as the parent. Don’t allow other people to speak negativity into your child’s life. Period.
5. Create a life-giving home. While some people may think this is sheltering our kids, I don’t particularly agree with that line of thinking. I want to cultivate my children’s heart. I want them to trust me and be able to come to me with their problems. I don’t want them to hide, or think I’ll love them any less because of something they did or something that happened to them.
Life outside the home may be unpredictable and chaotic, but when they’re here at home, I want them to feel loved because they are.
Some people may think these are extreme measures for something as “silly” as bullying. Being bullied isn’t a small ordeal. That experience can stay with someone well into adulthood. Our daughter still brings it up from time to time… an incident that occurred four years ago. So, if your child has experienced bullying, I encourage you to try some of these steps to help them to do the heart work of overcoming this experience.
Tune out the noise from all the finger pointing, and speculation, and think about this one thing: young lives were lost.
We need to teach and demonstrate to our children what it means to be kind to ourselves and to others.
We need to teach them how to stand up for themselves, how to handle bullies, and how to report these instances.
We need to cultivate homes that are safe harbors for our kids so they can come to us when a problem arises. We need to show them that we are someone they can come to about anything. We need to help them handle their emotions after being bullied because even if it doesn’t ultimately lead to suicide (prayerfully), it can lead to numerous negative outcomes for your child.
You are called. Set apart. And equipped to mother your children.
So lead and guide them well, mama.
You got this!
Rootin’ for you,
Related: Keep Fighting For Your Child’s IEP