Has your child been the victim of bullying with words?
When I was a child, my mother always told me that sticks and stones would break my bones, but words could not hurt me.
Though her intentions were good, the real truth is that words DO hurt. In fact, they can hurt a child just as much as sticks and stones.
Singer Leanna Crawford sings:
Mean girls don’t remember what they said
Well, it’s funny ’cause I can’t seem to forget
Their whispers opened up the door
To a world called insecure
No, mean girls don’t remember what they said
Stick and stones may break my bones
But no one ever warned me about words
Your child may not be getting beat up or harmed in any way physically, but words from their friends–and adults of course–can inflict just as much pain. Kids are especially good at doing this to each other.
When it happens to your child–and it WILL sooner or later, even if it’s not full-on bullying–what does your child need to know in order to recover from the damage that those words can cause?
Their Feelings are Validated
When your child tells you about mean things that were said to them, it’s important for you to remain calm. Listen to what your child has to say and then validate their feelings. When you do this, you give your child a better chance of moving past the ordeal.
They Can “Fight Back” With Words
Teach your child that their words can be used to “fight back” without being mean themselves. Practice phrases your child can use to tell someone to stop the mean words. These words should be simple and forthright, but not antagonistic: “Leave me alone.” “Back off.” “That wasn’t nice.”
They could also use phrases like, “Yeah, whatever,” and then turn their backs and walk away. “The key is that a comeback shouldn’t be a put-down, because that aggravates a bully,” says Michele Borba, Ed.D., a Parents advisor and author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.
They Are Not to Blame for Others’ Mean Words
Victims of abuse often feel like they did something to deserve the mistreatment, and it’s easy for us to say, “well, he or she brought that on themselves.”
Instead of asking questions like “What did you do to provoke him/her?”, just listen. Don’t interrupt, criticize, or minimize what your child has experienced. If you think that your child did contribute to the conflict, you might ask a question like, “Why do you think so-and-so said those things to you?”
Your child needs to know that bullying is a choice the bully makes and that the bully is responsible for their own actions.
It Takes Courage to Speak Up
Sometimes, kids won’t admit they are being bullied because they are afraid that reporting bullying will make it get worse. Praise your child for speaking up about the bullying. Acknowledge how difficult it is to talk about it.
They Have Options in How to Handle the Situation
When you ask your child how they want to handle the situation, you empower them. You are letting them know you trust their decision and you allow them to let go of being a victim and feel in control again.
Resist the urge to jump in and fix things for your child. Instead, become the coach and help them explore the options for handling the situation, and then support them in those decisions.
They are Not Alone
While it’s important that parents do not take over, it’s also important that kids know they are there supporting them and will step in to help in need be.
If your child has been threatened or physically hurt, or if the meanness is worsening, contact school officials or coaches immediately. All kinds of bullying should have consequences.
There is Hope for This to End
Help your child to move on from the meanness incident and think about the future is important. There are things your child can do: walk to class with a friend, eat lunch with a buddy, and stay away from bullying hot spots. Encourage your child to be involved in extra-curricular activities and do things that will build their self-confidence.
Your child may feel helpless and hopeless, but they need to know that there is a way to get through it and move on. The meanness of other kids does not have to control their lives.
They are Worth So Much More Than the Mean Words
The mean words that your child hears do not have to define them. This is where you as parents can have a huge impact. You affirm your kids with good, honest, and sincere words and love them unconditionally. You tell them over that “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” (The Help)
You remind them that hurt people hurt people, and that mean words from those hurt people are empty arrows aimed at others and are actually a result of their own hurt and not your child’s actions.
As the song Mean Girls says,
I smile and I pretend it doesn’t hurt
But the older that I get it just gets worse
Remind me that my worth
Is worth so much more than their words.
When Your Child Hears Mean Words, Don’t Tell Them…
To Ignore it, to just “toughen up, to stop being so dramatic, to just figure it out by themselves, or to just deal with it because “Kids are just being kids.”
Instead, take the time to give them the emotional tools they need to “fight back,” and move on.