And no, it's NOT normal for kids to be bullied. Period.
I recently read an article here on YourTango about what it's really like to be the mom of a bullied child. What's so disheartening is that the experience of that mom and her daughter is SO much more common in our schools and communities than we want to believe.
Before I was a life coach in private practice, I had the chance to work with teen girls as a school counselor. I was privileged to have them share with me their struggles with bullying, feelings of low self-esteem and the daily challenges that most parents are either unaware of or feel powerless to do anything about. I've seen teen girls call each other names, put out compromising photos of each others on the internet, and just be plain mean to one another.
What I found the hardest to witness as confidant for these girls was the messages they received from adults. Whether it was the teachers or the parents, when kids bring up the topic of bullying, the response is that it’s a totally normal part of growing up – almost a right of passage. People drum it up to the fact that "all kids get bullied," or that "girls are mean".
These are some of the most damaging messages kids and teens get.
Here are some tips on how teach kids about bullying and how to prevent your child from becoming a bully themselves:
1. Teach your kids to have empathy towards others.
The first and most important thing to know is that kids learn to behave by what they observe. Bullies often treat their victims in a way that they were treated themselves. If a child is a bully there's a good chance that they've been bullied themselves at some point – often by their own parents or siblings.
The best way to prevent bullying is to show them empathy. When parents, teachers and friends are empathetic to a child’s feelings and needs, the child, in turn, learns to be empathic to others. When a child learns to look beyond themselves and feel what someone else might be feeling, they are less likely to bully that other person.
2. Acknowledge your child's feelings without brushing them under the rug.
All too often as a culture we treat bullying as a normal part of growing up. Our kids get the message that this painful experience is a normal part of life – that their self worth isn't important. Don't brush your child's feelings under the rug.
If you're a parent, teacher or other role model, call bullying out for what it really is – relationship violence.
Acknowledge your child's feelings. It's absolutely normal to feel sad when someone has bullied them. Avoid telling them they will grow out of it or that it's a normal part of life, this way you can prevent them from suppressing their legitimate feelings.
3. Show your child what a real, true friendship looks like.
Even one good friend is enough to help – and even save – your child. Ask your child which of their friends always support and care for them. Ask them, “who is someone who you KNOW has your back?”
If your child struggles with this and is isolated at school, encourage them to try out activities in the community and build social connections there.
When dealing with bullying, reminding kids about their support system and the love that you have for them is key. Once you develop a base value system for your child, you can work together with their teachers and role models to fight off bullying for good.