How to talk to your child about bullying
Bullying is an age-old topic parents are faced with as toddlers grow into school-aged children and eventually teenagers. But in today's increasingly connected digital environment, parents now must consider all the new avenues these behaviors can take place.
Social media has changed the way bullying often occurs. In the past, bullying may have been more isolated to school or in public. With social media and a constant sense of being connected, bullying is happening around the clock.
Cyberbullying can be very hard for children to navigate and can have a profound impact, and many children are not in a place where they know how to separate themselves from these ongoing stressors.
It's more important than ever that parents stay in tune with their child's interactions with friends and peers, both at school and online. While these can be difficult conversations to have, the very act of talking to children about bullying is incredibly important.
If your child is the victim of bullying, the goal is to first show your child you are there for them so they don't have to navigate it alone, and second to equip them with the skills to handle the situation.
Encouraging kids not to engage in bullying situations is very important. The more attention and distress a bully can get out of a situation, the more likely they are to continue the behavior. However, when things escalate, it is important to know when to step in. In situations that are more severe -- such as those that involve physical aggression or threats -- it is important that parents touch base with the school and make sure everyone is aware of the situation.
If parents learn their child is the bully in the situation, I encourage parents to be very clear, concrete and direct in their words. While these conversations can be uncomfortable -- and the parent may feel insecure or that they've done something wrong or they've somehow perpetuated these negative behaviors -- talking about bullying with their children is essential.
We need to be able to tell our children directly that their actions are not appropriate when they are instigating these situations. That always needs to be done in an age-appropriate way and will likely be an ongoing topic of discussion for the family. Kids learn through repetition and observation and need to continually hear the message that these negative behaviors and actions are not acceptable.
The most important thing parents can do to raise kind humans is be kind humans -- and that starts with how they themselves act in front of their children.
Parents should strive to model positive behaviors and interactions with others -- and to speak up when negative actions are happening. Children tend to learn a lot from their environment, and we want to be sure we are surrounding them with positive, pro-social messages.
• Children's health is a continuing series. Dr. Malcolm Vandrevala is a child and adolescent psychiatry physician for Advocate Children's Hospital.