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Dealing with Bullies and Mean Girls

I will never forget the day my daughter came home from school and told me about how a mean girl (supposedly a friend) had been treating her. I could barely listen as she explained to me what had been happening. I had never really liked this “friend” and already had plenty of animosity towards her. This reminded me of painful memories when I had been bullied as a child. Out of impulsive anger, I found the urge to call the girl’s mother. The response was not what I had expected but I’m sure it didn’t help that I had called her in such a charged up state.

When my daughter went to school the next day, there was now not just one mean girl, but a group of girls who taunted her for “tattling” to her mom. As you can imagine, this was a challenging time for my daughter. She was also angry with me for how I handled the situation. I later realized there were many ways in which I could have responded differently.

I have to say, I’ve been a little hesitant to write about bullying. It’s such a sensitive topic. There is a wide range of severity with bullying. As I write this, I don’t want to minimize the damage of bullying and I also want to help us empower our children so they can learn how to take care of themselves. I realize each situation is different and requires figuring out what actions to take for the bullying to stop. This process can be overwhelming and very emotional. At the end of this post, please see the number of resources that can provide further assistance.

There is nothing that will awaken the momma bear inside of us more than hearing that our child is being bullied. You will experience a wide range of emotions—anger, anxiety, and helplessness. Your first instinct may be to charge out of your den, just like I did. You may want to confront the bully or call their parents and give them a piece of your mind. You may want to punish the perpetrator and make them pay. You may even feel frustrated that your child isn’t standing up for themselves. It is easy for panic to set in, to feel overwhelmed and unsure as how to best handle the situation. All of these feelings and reactions are both normal and understandable.

Here are some things I have learned that can help your child deal with bullies and mean girls.

  1. Stay calm.

When one of our children shares with us that they are being bullied, it’s important to first monitor our feelings and initial reactions so we can stay calm and allow them to talk. Being reactive tends to shut the child down and ends up making them feel more anxious. Notice your feelings and take a deep breath.

  1. Listen.

It’s important to give your child the time and space to talk about what’s happening and how they’re feeling. Listening will increase the likelihood that they will share with you in the future. Listening allows your child to think through strategies that can empower them to find solutions and lessen the chances of feeling powerlessness, anxiety, and depression.

  1. Reassure them.

Reassure them that:

Their feelings are understandable and you’re glad they told you.

Bullying can happen to anyone.

There is nothing wrong with them and it’s not their fault.

They do not need to put up with the bullying.

You are here to help them figure out what needs to be done to make it stop.

  1. Ask questions.

It’s important to discern the severity of the situation. Bullying can cover a wide range of behaviors. Find out what’s going on and for how long it has been occurring. It can be helpful to realize the difference between kids being mean or kids being bullies.

What is bullying?

  • It is usually not a single act, but different acts repeated over time.
  • The intent is to hurt, ridicule, humiliate, mock, and demean their targets, which can cause serious harm either physically, emotionally, and/or psychologically.
  • Their attacks include physical abuse that hurts a child or their possessions.
  • There is verbal abuse, which involves saying or writing mean things.
  • There is social abuse, which hurts a child’s reputation or relationships, such as spreading rumors or purposely excluding someone.
  • The abuse involves a real or perceived imbalance of power.
  • Being in the presence of the bully creates extreme anxiety and dread and can result in a child not wanting to go to school or hang out in the neighborhood.
  1. Repeat back what you hear.

After you put your own feelings aside, show them that you have listened by repeating what you have heard them say. You can also clarify that you have clearly understood what’s been happening if you need to report the bullying.

  1. Coach your child.
  • Ask your child how they want to handle the situation.
  • Brainstorm with them what can be done and some actions that you can both take.
  • Depending on the situation, explain to them that you may have to contact the school. Remember to reassure them that you will talk to them before taking any actions.
  • As a parent, you will need to discern the best way to handle the situation.
  • If they aren’t being physically threatened, you can help them come up with ideas about what they might do in future situations.
  • Teach them to be empowered— take turns role-playing and help them to come up with ideas of how they might respond.
  • Encourage your child to find activities that build up their self-confidence and enable them to find good friends.
  • Don’t talk trash about the bully. Instead, get them to think about what might be the driving force behind the bully’s behavior. Bullies often have difficult home environments or situations in which they have been abused.
  1. Get support as the parent.

Talk to other parents who have gone through similar situations and seek helpful resources that can provide you with information, insight, and counsel to help you decide how you want to proceed. Seek insight from teachers into what they may have observed with your child. Get their recommendations.

  1. Report it.

Report the bullying to someone in authority— a school counselor, social worker, teacher, principal, coach, or mentor. Make sure that your child knows that keeping bullying a secret allows the situation to continue. If they are being physically threatened, you need to let someone know immediately and may need to contact the police. Your child may be afraid that sharing with someone will make the bullying worse. Reassure them that you are taking the necessary steps to put an end to the bullying and to protect them. Most schools now have policies in place that are very effective in dealing with bullying by focusing on the bully, protecting the victim, and maintaining confidentiality.

Additional online resources on the topic of bullying and cyberbullying:

Additional reading on the topic of bullying:

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