Talking to Your Child About Bullying

Talking to Your Child About Bullying

I was in 4th grade when my family relocated from New York to Texas. Never having lived away from my small town, my first few months—okay, maybe it was more like a few years—were miserable. Upon reflection, I think I experienced more than the expected discomfort for two reasons. The first, is that I was literally the only kid in the grade who didn’t have these specific Adidas sneakers. The second was that kids constantly asked me to say words like “coffee” and “hot dog,” only to laugh right in my face because my New York accent sounded hilarious to them. One kid called me “mental” and another pushed me down while we played soccer at recess. Every day, I begged my parents to move us back to New York.

Was this bullying, or was it just harmless teasing? Bullying is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths, who are not siblings or current dating partners, that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated.” (Preventing Bullying, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018).

Bullying looks different from community to community. Three common types of bullying are:

  • Physical: hitting, kicking, punching, spitting, tripping, pushing
  • Verbal: teasing, name-calling, inappropriate comments, verbal or written threats
  • Social: excluding someone, spreading rumors, making embarrassing comments

I experienced a combination of all three types of bullying in my new school.

Bullying is something that many adults have experienced, or at least witnessed, at one point or another in their lives. As parents, it’s heart-wrenching to think about our children being the victim of a bully, and just as heart-wrenching to think about our children actually exhibiting the bullying behavior. Because we want our children to grow up in safe and secure environments, both at home and at school, it’s important that we talk to them about this topic so we can help end this widespread problem.

October has been designated as National Bullying Prevention Month, founded by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center. The purpose of this movement is to put an end to bullying and unite to keep all young people safe from bullying. One way we can do this is by having meaningful conversations about bullying, empathy, and friendship with our children. Here are some books to support you:

Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev: This book focuses on the experience of being excluded. The author does a phenomenal job sharing a story about friendship and inclusion. Full of important lessons, this best-selling book is perfect for children ranging from ages 2-10.

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell: Molly Lou’s self-confidence is inspiring in this story. While she isn’t a traditional beauty, her grandmother taught her to be proud of herself. When she starts at a new school and is picked on by a bully, she shrugs it off and doesn’t doubt herself. This refreshing story is perfect for ages 4-8.

Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry: A story about kindness and friendship, it’s subtle anti-bullying message is present and effective. In a lighthearted way, the author shares the adventure of Stone, Stick, and Pinecone. This story is perfect for ages 4-8.

A Glass Full of Rumors by A.M. Marcus: This heartwarming book tackles a serious topic with colorful and bright illustrations. Children learn about the dangers and harm of rumors, and an important quote by Socrates: “If what you want to say is neither true, nor good or kind, nor useful or necessary, please don’t say anything at all.” The book, with a fun and happy ending, is great for children ages 5-12.

Be sure to preread each of the books before you read with your child, and be ready with questions to ask them while you read together. Some examples are:

  • What is bullying behavior?
  • Has this ever happened to you?
  • How do you feel when someone is mean to you? What are some ways you can tell them to stop?
  • Have you ever seen this happen to someone else?
  • How do you feel when someone is mean to another child? What can you do to help that child?
  • How could they have handled this in a different way?
  • What can teachers do to help all kids feel safe and loved at school?
  • What can parents do to help all kids feel safe and loved at home?
  • What are some reasons someone might be mean to others?

Bullying can be an isolating experience for both kids and parents, so working through it together is essential. Open the lines of communication with your child and let them know you will provide a safe place to talk. It’s vital that they know they can come to us with their problems. This year, in October, I invite you to use the hashtag #bullyingpreventionmonth to post on social media and take a stance.

By Caitlin Hardeman, former third through sixth grade teacher specializing in English Language Arts.

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