Your child comes home from playing with friends and says she was bullied. Naturally, you are concerned and want to do something about it. But, before you go calling parents or teachers it would be wise to talk with your child and collect a bit more information.
When children are learning social skills they are faced with many upsetting and confusing situations. One or two lessons on bullying will not equip most children to deal effectively with upsetting behaviors.
Children need a strong sense of emotional literacy. They need to be able to read a situation and respond in the most effective way. And they need to know when to tell an adult and when to handle it child-to-child. The best way to help your child develop emotional literacy is conversation. The best time to have these conversations is after your child has had a negative experience with another child.
The first step is to help your child discern between rude, mean, and bully behavior.
Rude behavior hurts but is typically inadvertent. It can be poor manners, bragging, or unwelcome rough play. The best response to rudeness is “I don’t like that, please stop.” Then turn away. Don’t expect an apology, don’t make a big deal of it, and don’t tattle. This is not an easy reaction but is one that shows emotional strength. Sometimes potential bullies and manipulators try rudeness first to check for a reaction. The child who cries or runs for help gives the message that he or she is a potential victim.
Mean behavior is a step up from rudeness because it carries intent and sometimes planning. Mean people are typically trying to elevate themselves by putting someone else down. The tricky issue for children is determining if someone did something “on purpose.” Most children who have been hurt assume that the other child performed the action on purpose; they also think their own actions are “an accident.” The correct response to mean behavior is the same as for rude behavior with the additional encouragement to bring this behavior to your attention. Spend time talking about what happened before the mean action and be sure that your child is not participating in mean behavior. If mean behavior occurs repetitively and is two-sided it may indicate an ongoing conflict.
Bully behavior is repetitive, one-sided, and involves an imbalance of power. Bullying usually requires some adult intervention. By maintaining conversations with your child with the goal of strengthening emotional literacy you will collect information regarding a bully situation that will be useful to the teacher or other adult supervising the situation. You and your child will have already eliminated simple behaviors that can be handled without adult help.
Children do not become confident if we solve problems for them or if we inadvertently teach them they always need adult help. Talking, planning, and praying together will build a strong parent child relationship and also a strong child.