It’s that time of year again!
Back to school is typically welcomed with an energetic mix of excitement, anticipation, and expectations, but for many, this can also be a time of anxiety and fear. So much emphasis is placed on “getting ready” and having the right clothes and supplies, yet we don’t always take the time to get our minds ready and prepare for other challenges our kids might face. Schedules change and routines are interrupted, which can be stressful to both parents and children. Some might even be generally afraid that they will be picked on or physically assaulted. It can be hard to know where to turn for help, which is why I want to offer up some tips for parents to prevent bullying.
- Set the Example
It’s no secret that children look up to their parents, but what about other influences? Young people are just trying to find their way in the world, and watching how others interact can be a great way to learn the tools necessary to survive and contribute to society in a healthy way. However, this influence can also have negative effects. We live in a world where news, information, and the latest celebrity gossip can all be accessed at the push of a button. The latest “scandal” or crime is usually highlighted more than the charitable actions of those who care. And, as we all know, children often idolize the most popular athletes, celebrities, actors, and musicians, whose behavior isn’t always acceptable in many walks of life.So what can we do? How can one person make a difference?
In my experience, the best way for parents to prevent bullying is to be the person they want their child to be.
Show them that it is possible to choose positivity over negativity, and be consistent. Do the work you need to do to be there for them. Exhibit good qualities when your children AREN’T around, or when you have the opportunity to help someone else’s child. And when you see behavior in others that represents the qualities you seek, point them out and explain how that good dead or those nice words can really make a difference in someone’s life. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to show children what to do versus teach them what not to do.
The more we all take ownership of our responsibilities as role models for the next generation, the better off we’ll all be.
(If you’d like to learn more about role models, I highly recommend this article)
- Encourage your child to approach uncomfortable situations with confidence. Challenge them to face their fears often.
When I was younger, I was deathly afraid of heights. And as my sisters can attest, if I saw a spider, one could hear my shrill cries for help from miles away. I also couldn’t look a stranger in the eye or carry on a conversation with someone I didn’t know well.As I grew older, these fears morphed from endearing quirks into real challenges that could make it difficult for me to hold it together when faced with adversity. Therefore, in order to prevent the challenges, I learned to avoid the things that triggered my fears in the first place. While it may have worked in the short term, a part of me knew it wasn’t really doing me any good. Little did I know, I was going about it all the wrong way – rather than avoid my fears, I should face them head on and never look back!
The minute I found the courage to face my fears and showed myself there wasn’t anything to be afraid of, I took control of my own life.
For a child being bullied, the fear can be (and usually is) much worse than what I used to feel when staring out over a steep cliff. It can feel all-consuming and life-changing, so the fear can spiral into a feeling of total lack of control. I’m not suggesting that simply telling a child not to be afraid and to face it head on is going to solve anything. What I am saying is that if we take the opportunity to encourage our children to face other fears in regular day-to-day life, they may feel more empowered to take healthy action when serious situations do arise.
Afraid of heights? Take them on a hike to a peak or walk the steps to the top of a tall building. Shy in public? Encourage your child to order his or her own food when dining out. Snakes make them jump out of their boots? Visit your local zoo and have them learn in a safe environment. View your child’s fear as an opportunity to teach them how to confront a challenge. You might just be amazed at what you both learn along the way.
- Set clear boundaries and expectations of appropriate behavior AHEAD of time.
I am blessed to have an incredible child and often get positive feedback on his behavior and how he treats others. While I admit some of it is just dumb luck, I also like to think that our approach to parenthood and consistency in that approach is a big part of his personality. One of the tools I like to use quite often is to talk to our son BEFORE we go places or enter situations that we know will be or could be a challenge for him.Children, and many times adults, tend to lash out at others not because they are bad people, but because they get overwhelmed with fear in a moment or don’t like the feeling of lack of control. They might also simply lack the tools to deal with stress in a healthy way. If you know your child will be heading into a challenging situation, take the time BEFORE you go. Explain what might arise and make it clear what behavior is and isn’t acceptable. While this won’t always prevent negative interactions, it can help your child feel more prepared and at least have an option or two should something come up.
- Explain the importance of not accepting “bait” and communicate appropriate methods of response.
When a child is bullied, he or she can feel helpless and alone. This feeling of helplessness can be made much worse if the child doesn’t know how or where to go to get help. And when children don’t know what to do, they often revert to primal instincts and reactions, which can lead to some serious consequences for everyone involved.Educate your child about what constitutes bully behavior and what to do if they experience bullying directly. If you haven’t already, ask your child to keep an open line of communication if they experience anything negative when you’re not around. Make sure your child is aware of anonymous hotlines and other outlets to report bullying or reach out for help. There’s a good chance their school has procedures already in place. Lastly, explain the importance of stepping up to help others if they see something that isn’t right. Even if your child hasn’t been bullied, he or she has probably seen a bullying situation at some point.
- Check in every day!
Children are often embarrassed or experience feelings of shame after being bullied, so they may be reluctant to share. Pay attention to your child and let him or her know daily that they’re cared for. Notice changes in your child’s body language, tone of voice, and demeanor. Ask questions if something is off. No one knows your child better than you. Be the first line of defense if you want to prevent bullying.
Bullying and the destruction it causes is a serious issue with serious consequences. I know that the few tips offered above barely touch the surface on all of the issues surrounding bullying and mental health. I couldn’t possibly cover everything in one article. Luckily, there many resources available, both locally and nationally, to help those affected find a better way to deal with bullying. Should you desire more information, here are some more tips for parents to prevent bullying:
- Sioux Falls Parents – report a bullying concern at school
- Harrisburg Parents – report a bullying concern at school
- National Stop Bullying Organization – tips for parents to prevent bullying
- South Dakota Resources – Learn how to prevent bullying
- Anonymous Bully Reporting
Still not sure where to start? We can help – contact us here.