How do I talk to my younger children about bullying?
1. Explain what bullying is, perhaps in a separate conversation, giving them time to digest the information you have given them. There is no specific definition for bullying but it is roughly defined as repeated behaviour, which is intended to hurt someone either emotionally or physically.
2. Keep non-specific conversations informal. Over dinner perhaps you could mention that a friend's son has been bullied. Sometimes, the less formal it is, the more likely your child will be to approach you with similar information in the future. You could even use examples from TV shows or films.
3. Remind your child that you've been there. Whether you have been bullied or witnessed bullying, find a way to align yourself with your child, especially if you feel they are in the same boat.
4. If your child decides to open up about bullying, just listen, without any judgement. A gentle smile, nodding in the right places and asking questions that show you are listening will help put your child at ease. If your child is bullying another person, then the process is the same - it may be that they weren't aware of how hurtful their actions are, so this is your opportunity to educate them in a non-judgemental way.
5. If your child asks, or if you feel they want advice, tell them what they can do to move forward. Use your own experiences, or again, use examples for TV or films where appropriate.
A personal story...
"I remember being called names when I was around 9 years old. I'm a girl, who was easily 2 inches taller than everyone else, who also loved football and being the class clown. This was 15-16 years ago, so I felt "different" to the rest of the girls my age. On top of everything else, I was really sensitive & struggling with who I was, like most children at this stage in their lives.
I have a peculiar surname (Pickles), I was tall and I was a tom-boy, which meant that all of these things made me an easy target. Name calling and bullying became the norm for me, especially from my peers in older year groups. Although I had friends, I felt lonely and didn't know what to do.
Then, I remember having a conversation with someone about bullying, specifically name-calling. Using their own examples, they told me the reason why people bully others (insecurities, jealously, fear of the unknown, etc.) and then gave me 2 pieces of advice that I still follow, even today...
"Embrace your surname... Ask your best friend to start calling you it! Ask them to do it because they care about you. The more the 'bullies' hear your friend calling you "Pickles", the more they will think you aren't insecure about it. Over time, you won't care anymore and neither will they."
"When it comes to name-calling, just remember that it can only hurt you if you let it. For example, if I called you a "sponge" or a "book", would that bother you? No, of course not! That's because those words don't have meanings for you. You are who you are, and you are no less of a person than anyone else. So, if someone calls you fat or comments on your appearance (or anything else for that matter), just remember that you can choose to let that hurt you, or you can choose to remember that these words are just words, and you don't have to give them meaning - especially not because a bully has called you them."
I took this advice and ran with it! The next day, I ran straight up to one of my most trusted friends and asked them to call me "Pickles". They seemed a little perplexed at the time, but understood why I was asking them to do it...
To this day, my surname is my nickname and I love it! It took me a few weeks to get used to it, but being called it by my friends normalised it. Of course, people have tried since to bully me by calling me names, like "Gherkin" (this was 15 years ago, after all!), but I just remember this advice and let it wash over me.
I know that this is just one example and I understand that sometimes bullying situations may be much worse than being called a few names. Physical bullying, cyber-bullying, homophobic, racist, disablist, ageist, sexist bullying are not acceptable and you should always seek support if this is something you are dealing with.
If bullying is something you or your child is struggling with, please get in touch or contact Bullying UK for confidential advice & support.
"Sticks and stones will break my bones, but I can choose whether to let the names hurt me. If it hurts and I feel low, I must always remember that I am not alone."
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