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4 Tips for Parents on How to Handle Bullying and Young Kids

As a mom, I've come across a few incidents of bullying behavior where I felt that I needed to step in. It was stressful for me because I had never really given it much thought. And once I found myself in the situation, while my intentions were good, I wasn't quite sure if I handled the situation correctly. So, for all the parents of young kids out there who are worried about what they or their kids should do in bullying situations, here are four basic things to keep in mind:

  1. Recognize bullying behavior. Many of us struggle to understand the definition of bullying, especially as opposed to teasing. What is bullying? A great article in Psychology Today explains the difference between bullying and teasing. Namely, bullying is an explicit act of aggression. Most important, in bullying, the intention of the child is to harm another child. While teasing may look similar, what sets it apart is the intention of the child doing the teasing. The intention could be mean, but it could also be neutral, or even friendly. Small consolation to your child, I know. But it's important to understand the difference in the intent so that you know how to address the issue.
  2. Handle conversations about bullying with other adults effectively. If your child is a victim of bullying, it's important to not just help your child handle the situation, but also for you to reach out to the other grown-ups that can help to address the situation.
  • If in school, talk to teachers and administrators. If at home, you can talk to the parents of the child responsible for bullying. If you're talking to the parents themselves, remember that kids who bully often do so because they're having trouble themselves. Blaming the child or getting upset in front of their parents probably won't get you anywhere.
  • Realize that the parents may feel defensive, apprehensive, guilty, or even angry with you. Instead, try to approach the conversation with empathy and avoid making assumptions to create more of a problem-solving dynamic that helps BOTH kids.
  • 3. Understand the roles of those involved in bullying incidents. Generally, you have the aggressor, the victim, and bystanders. Understanding how to best engage with each of these groups will help you better engage if confronted with a bullying situation.

    • Aggressors, those who engage in bullying behavior, might be dealing with some difficult issues themselves. Young kids in particular simply lack the social skills to handle conflict or negative emotions. They're more apt to strike out and, sometimes, that can manifest as bullying behavior. For these kids, having role models that show them how to build up their empathy and how to handle their own negative emotions is critical.
    • Younger kids who are targets of bullying definitely need a parent to step in. But that doesn't mean that you need to take over the situation. As this article shows, it's actually a good opportunity for you to help coach your kid and problem-solve together. Having a child learn how to diffuse bullying situations can build resilience and social skills. And it goes without saying that you must talk to other grown-ups involved, especially in a preschool or school situation.
    • Lastly, there may be bystanders. If your kid witnesses a bullying situation, it can be a frightening experience. It's important to empower kids - including young kids - to teach them that there are things they can do to safely stop or help in a bullying situation. Teach your kids how to recognize a bullying situation, how to intervene safely, and how to get help from a grown-up - recognize, refuse, and report.

    4. Talk about bullying with your kids before it happens. With young kids in particular, you have the ability to build a foundation of resilience and empathy in your child. Modeling effective ways to handle conflict and talking to your kids about those methods is a great way to start. The same goes for setting emotional and physical boundaries with kids, and discussing why those are important. Take opportunities to build empathy, also, by regularly asking your kids to consider how their actions (positive as well as negative) affected someone else. Lastly, talk about how to spot bullying and what to do about it so that your kids are empowered to act.

    This article was authored by Carla Uriona, a US-based mom, blogger, lover of technology, and enthusiastic collaborator with the Papumba community.