What to do if you think your kid is being bullied.


If you answered YES:

This is bullying.

  1. Empathize calmly, not dramatically. (Don’t emphasize how much of a victim your kid is.  Do not inadvertently solidify his identity as helpless or hopeless in your efforts to provide empathy.  Instead emphasize how resilient he can be.)
  2. Reiterate that another’s actions/words don’t define your child, and emphasize/brainstorm tangible qualities and sources of self-pride.
  3. Teach your kid that most people bully because they feel insecure and lack guidance, even when they look really tough.  This disarms the bully’s power and encourages thinking about others holistically instead of categorically (Thinking “this is a regular person who misbehaves in-part due to a certain circumstance” instead of “this is a horrible person in general” is good: How your child thinks about others is going to be how he thinks about himself, and you don’t want your kid  thinking “I am a horrible person” every time he has a mean urge. Instead, you want him thinking, “my anger is understandable given the circumstance” in order to stave off depression, anxiety, shame, etc. And if you think this whole “holistic” mumbo jumbo is crap because your kid is dealing with a bona fide child sociopath, I’d actually suggest getting in-person therapeutic guidance- and sometimes legal guidance- for navigating this extremely rare scenario.)
  4. Discuss an action-plan WITH the child. This may include anything from role-playing a scripted response, to planning a classroom seating arrangement to avoid taunting, to meeting with a principal to devise a plan in which there will be no contact.
  5. Change the subject to something that does not offer your child an opportunity to assume the” victim identity” or ruminate about how “wronged” he was. Again, the bulk of the conversation is empowerment, not victimization.

If you answered NO:

Ask yourself: Is the problem more that another kid’s perspective/needs conflict with your child’s perspective/needs, as opposed to the other child actually being disrespectful?  For example, did Jimmy simply tell your child that he didn’t like Pokémon?

If you answered YES:

  1. Take that opportunity to validate your child’s feelings, “I can see why you would feel disappointed that Jimmy doesn’t share your love of Pokémon.”
  2. Immediately take the next breath to gently explain that it is okay for the other kid to have his opinion/need.  In the next breath, share with your child a time when he required someone else to accept his difference perspective/needs. Remember when you didn’t want to play dolls with your sister, and that was totally okay for you to tell her you didn’t want to play?

If you answered NO (Still hurtful, but sporadic, not cruelty, and not just a difference in opinion):

  1.  Empathize calmly, and not dramatically.  “That stinks that David said you kick like a two-year old. I bet your feelings were hurt.”
  2. Remind your child matter-of-factly, without shame or outrage, that we all can have “off-days” once in a while. “Sounds like David was being crabby toward you, kinda like you that time when you told your sister her painting was stupid.” (If you instead proclaim, aghast, that the other kid is being an offensive “bully,” then your own kid will surely have anxiety and feel shame whenever he/she has his/her own “off-moment.”)
  3. Emphasize that he has the right and the ability to tell another kid not to say mean things. Role-play if necessary.  Just because social bumps and bruises are part of being human does not mean we don’t stick up for ourselves when they occur.
  4. Change the subject to something that does not offer your child an opportunity to assume the “victim identity” or ruminate about how “wronged” he was. (Instill the same empowerment message that you would offer in the event of repeated cruelty.)

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