Updated: Oct 15, 2022
Approximately one in 4 children experiences bulling, although this statistic is much higher according to some reports (see references).
As well as keeping their children safe and advocating for a safe school or playground environment, one of the biggest challenges for parents is knowing what to teach children about ways of responding to criticism or teasing from other children, in a way that neither escalates the situation, nor makes them feel powerless about not having an avenue to respond. Adults not being sure about how to respond is a frequently cited concern (see references).
It’s a tough call given that so many of us feel at a loss around how to respond to inappropriate criticism or some unwanted intrusion towards our boundaries.
As well as advocating for a safe environment for our children, I believe that the most important first step is in supporting children in tapping into their sense of high self-worth… The more we assist them in practicing staying confident, the more they will learn to not allow other people’s opinions to effect them and define them.
One simple activity that I often recommend is making a collage/vision board that represents the many abilities/strengths that your child has. It can also emphasize their uniqueness, interests, treasured ways of spending time, their favorite personal possessions, or their most celebrated achievements.
This collage can include your child’s favorite photo of themselves, one that expresses their personality and character, and can include a section about how they like to take care of themselves when they are experiencing difficult emotions.
In addition, children need guidance around knowing how to assertively respond to other people, in a way that (most importantly) keeps their connection to their self-esteem, while reinforcing their boundaries and reflecting any inappropriate behavior back away from themselves; as well as knowing when to ask for help and who to approach.
There are many guides on the internet for children with and without special needs, here is one beautiful (free) example I came across on https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/:
These can be modified according to the age and vocabulary level of the child. For example, as well as assertively knowing when to say “stop,” some reflective statements for older children can be:
I am not listening to what you’re saying.
I only care about what my friends say.
I see you have a bad mood today.
Have you noticed that you're mean today?
I don't like it when...
Despite bulling being a complex problem (for which researchers are still seeking effective solutions), role-playing various social scenarios with your child which they may use in situations of coming across a challenging peer, as well as helping them to tap into their feelings of self-worth, can go a long way towards empowering them in having coping strategies and resources to cope with challenging situations.
Gladden, R. M., Vivolo-Kantor, A. M., Hamburger, M. E., & Lumpkin, C. D. (2014). Bullying surveillance among youths: Uniform definitions for public health and recommended data elements, Version 1.0.Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and US Department of Education..
National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement - PDF , 2011.