Wake Forest University Professor of Counseling Donna Henderson offers her top 12 tips for parents to prevent their children from becoming bullies or victims.
“The goal is to create a no-bullying environment for children,” says Henderson, who is co-author of “Counseling Children” and a past president of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision. “It’s hard because we live in a world that accepts violence, intimidation and power as currency in life.”
*At open house, ask school officials and teachers directly about what they do to prevent bullying. Hold schools accountable for their no-bullying policies.
*Be alert to warning signs in children at the beginning of the year, such as sudden changes in behavior and not eating.
*Call it “bullying.” When observing bullying behavior, label it as “bullying” and tell kids “that’s not okay.” Giving it the name makes it clear the behavior is unacceptable.
*Talk about it. Use movies, and television programs, news stories and real situations as opportunities to talk about bullying — what it is and how to deal with it. Share how you would feel if someone talked to you in a particular way or did something to hurt you. Ask, “How would that make you feel?”
*Be empathetic. Children often feel hopeless when they’re in the middle of it. Knowing someone understands makes a difference.
*Keep asking. Because children often will not share when they become victims of bullies, continuing to ask questions is important.
*Address any problem immediately.
*Let children know they have choices. Remind them they have choices and can decide how they want to respond to a bully.
*Talk through and/or role play possible responses such as walking away, not showing emotion, staying in groups to avoid being singled out, and confronting a bully. Try to find examples in your everyday life that demonstrate ways to avoid bullying behavior.
*Give children language to use when approached by a bully. For example, “I don’t like the way you’re treating me and you’re a bully.”
*Look in the mirror and become more self-aware. Parents whose default response is one of intimidation may inadvertently model bullying behavior for their children. Or, if parents are the targets of bullying behavior from other adults and they don’t address it directly, kids will assume that’s the way to respond to bullies. Also consider the behaviors you as parents allow between siblings – if bullying is a part, explain that is not acceptable and help the children figure out other ways to communicate.
*Ask school counselors to help. They can provide encouragement and support, work on social skills and help victims of bullying connect with other children.
Bullying remains a pervasive problem in schools across the country, despite schools’ best efforts to address it, Henderson says. But, parents who are observant, empathetic and proactive can help their children understand bullying behavior and how to deal with it.