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standing up to bullies

Teaching Your Child How to Stand Up to Bullies

A friend recently came to me and told me that her son had come home from school and told her about a child at lunch who had spit on his sandwich. My friend, his parent, was hurt and shaken by this news. She wanted to help her child but didn’t know exactly how to approach the situation. Helping a child to deal with a bully can be difficult. You want your child to stand up for themselves but not respond in a way that will make things worse. 

Her situation made me think about the things we can teach our children when it comes to bullies, here are some tips:

1.) Keep Other Relationships Strong — Bullies gain power when their victims feel alone and powerless. Make sure your child maintains strong connections with others — this can be friends, family members, coaches, people they can go to when they feel bullied. 

2.) Re-Define Tattling — We are always telling our children to not be tattlers. We don’t want them to tell on little things or be the kid who is always running to an adult when they can handle the problem on their own. When my friend asked her son if he told an adult at the lunchroom about the spitting, he said: “no, I didn’t want to tattle.” My friend then explained to her son that this was a serious thing and it needed to be recognized. Children don’t always know what is serious and what is not and bullies gain power by having their victims stay quiet. Tell your child it is ok, and encouraged, to reach out to an adult when there is a problem with another child. 

3.) Act Quickly — Don’t sit on this information for days or weeks pondering how to handle it. Make sure your child knows they can come to you and seek out an adult at school as soon as the bullying happens. The longer things drag out, the more damage can be done. 

4.)Teach Assertiveness— Passive responses like moving to another part of the room, or walking away just encourage a bully more. Assertive responses like a strong comeback or a non-emotional stare are much more powerful. They teach a bully not to mess with your kid. Set your child up with a few verbal responses they can give when someone says something mean to them. 

5.) Use Body Language — Verbal responses only go so far if your child is hiding behind their coat or hair when saying it, or crying through their words. This stuff is hard but your child needs to try to fake it for a few minutes. Showing emotion tells the bully they are getting to your child, which only encourages them. Body language needs to be strong to accompany the response, things like making eye contact, keeping calm, staying at an appropriate distance, and using the bully’s name, can all have a powerful impact. 

It is hard to teach your child that they have to put on a strong face when all they want to do is tear up and run to the bathroom, but these skills will help them in life as they continue to face difficult situations. Let them know it is ok to cry and express that emotion to a trusted friend or adult after they leave the bully. Seeking help from a licensed counselor can also help with coping and managing situations. 

child bully

What to do if your child is being bullied?

Bullying has always been a very real problem for children, and with the advent of social media, the internet, and smartphones it is even more prevalent and hard to escape. Knowing your child is a victim of bullying is hard to swallow. You feel helpless as a parent. You want to listen, you want to teach them, you want to go to school yourself and pull that other kid by the hair and tell them to “LEAVE (your kid) ALONE!” But, unfortunately, that type of behavior will only end badly for you and your child. 

So what do you do if your child is being bullied?

1.) Don’t assume — It can be easy as a parent to jump to conclusions. After all, you know your child, and you know he/she/they can sometimes be an instigator. They might have done something that has brought it on themselves. But, they could also just be the victim of some mean kids. We all know kids who are struggling with other issues but express those feelings in the form of bullying. Regardless, the most important thing you can do for your child is to LISTEN. Listen wholly, intently, to what they are saying. 

2.) Pay attention to nonverbal cues — Your child might be the victim of bullying but they may not be telling you the whole story. Watch them carefully. If you see a change in their behavior, ask them about it. Open the door for conversation. For example, if your child is suddenly more withdrawn, doesn’t want to go to school, doesn’t want to ride the bus, isn’t eating lunch, etc. Ask them about it. You can’t help them if you don’t know they are hurting.

3.) Don’t go to the other kid — You are your child’s protector, so you want to go straight to the source and end the issues. But that is not usually what happens. Parents who go straight to the other child to confront them often make things more awkward and uncomfortable, increasing bullying, upsetting the other child’s parents. It also can lead to trust issues between you and your child. 

4.) Involve the teacher — Your child’s teacher is your eyes when you aren’t around. They are also a neutral party. Tell the teacher what is going on and have them interject on their end. Sometimes the teacher can involve a social worker or peer-to-peer workshops to solve these issues. 

5.) Problem-solve with your child — Come up with a solution that works for your child. Maybe it involves sitting with another group of kids at lunch. Maybe it is switching seats on the bus. Talk to them (and check out tomorrow’s blog post for tips on how to help your child).

6.) Identify a safety zone — Your child spends a lot of time at school. They need a safety zone if they feel hurt, scared, sad, unsafe, etc. This can be a school social worker, school nurse, administrator, a trusted teacher, an older sibling, etc. Get the other party on board so they know what to do if your child comes to them and gives them an outlet to find help when they need it. 

Bullying can have long-term effects on a child, but as a parent being there and problem-solving together can teach them valuable lessons. Involving a licensed counselor can also help a child (and parent) to develop healthy coping skills and solutions. 

Ask Mabel: I am torn between an important work training and a request from my child, what do I do?

Dear Mabel, 

I am having a mom/work dilemma and I am so very torn. Tomorrow is my daughter’s last day of kindergarten. We recently moved out of the area to a new school district, but we were able to allow my daughter to finish the year at her old school. She is struggling because tomorrow will be her last day at her current school and she will have to say goodbye to all her friends. Normally it wouldn’t be a problem for me to be there with her for this, but tomorrow I am signed up for a special training. This free training workshop is something I have waited for years to take, it is usually very expensive. 

My daughter is normally a very happy, easy-going kid, but tonight she was a wreck. She was so emotional about her last day tomorrow. I told her that her grandparents will be picking her up from school and taking her out for a celebratory lunch and that I will be home as soon as I can. She just cried and cried and asked if there was some way I could be with her. She is so sad.

I am so torn! If it were anything else, I would move mountains to be there for her. But, this opportunity is truly rare, one I have inquired and waited for years. I am so sad about the timing of everything. What should I do? How do I handle this? 

Sincerely, Jenny from Alabama

Mabel: Thank you for reaching out. I am sorry that you feel torn between your daughter needing you and participating in training you’ve waited years for due to cost. I have a few questions:  1) What’s the most difficult thing about this?   2) Is this training offered every year or regularly?  3) Assuming it is offered every year or regularly, would you be able to put some money away each month to save for it? How much will you need to save per month?  4) Is the answer to question three do-able? 5) If it is not do-able within a year, can you spread it out? How long will you need to save monthly to attend the training? 

I am asking these questions about the training and money because training workshops and money are objects. They don’t have feelings. They don’t care if we move them around or tend to them later. I don’t know your daughter, so I don’t want to assume or say that she will be ok without you being there. But, I am 100% sure that training and money are ok with whatever you decide. 

I hold no judgment over your decision. This is my personal opinion. If I may, I would advocate for your daughter because she asked you to be there. I know her grandparents will be there to give her lots of love but she wants you. This is not her asking for a toy where you are saying “no.” This is her asking for emotional comfort during a very difficult time (in her six-year-old mind). She is young, so her mood may also change when tomorrow rolls around. I would say play it by ear and listen to your gut. 

The best time to be a stay-at-home parent isn’t what you think…

Being home with your children when they are babies is full of cuddles and cuteness. It can be a great experience for mom and child. But, if you are forced to choose a time in your child’s life to be home with them, or even to cut hours at work to be more available, it’s not when they are babies. 

I hear the shock and awe—and maybe even anger—at that statement but before you get all hot and bothered at the idea that I am recommending you skip the extra cuddles and kisses, hear me out. Yes, when our children are babies it is a beautiful, wonderful time in their lives and if you are able to be home with them that can be a wonderful gift. But, when it comes to your child’s needs, safety, and your mental sanity, the best time to be home with them is the middle and high school years. 

Middle and high school is a rough age. There is a lot going on with your child’s body, socially, and mentally. They need you more. They are becoming teenagers, daring kids. They are breaking boundaries, stepping outside of comfort zones, and defying your wishes. You are likely beginning to worry quite a bit about what they are up to. You are concerned about their health and their behaviors. The reason to stay home with your child in middle/high school is to protect them. 

Babies are adorable. They are cute. They are cuddly, and yes I encourage you to soak all that up. Cherish those moments. But, if you are a forced to choose a time to be home more, think about what might impact them more as adults, think about all the realities they are being faced with as teenagers and choose to be there for them. These are crucial years in your child’s life. They are likely feeling a lot of uncertainty and confusion. They are trying to fit in with their peers, be the “cool” kid, and they think they are smarter and more mature than they really are. It is a fantastic time to be on top of them. To teach them valuable life lessons. To make sure they are sticking to their word. And, to show them you support them, you love them, and you just want the very best for them. They may not engage with you fully, the way they did as a kid, but be present with them and catch them when they fall.

Let me be clear—if you don’t need to make the choice about when to be home, then great, and if you have no choice but to work, that is ok too. Don’t kick yourself if you can’t stay home, and if you don’t want to give up your career entirely you definitely do not need to be home full-time. There is nothing that says you have to be home with your child but regardless try to be present with them as much as possible.