How to Address Bullying With Your Child: Tips and Conversation Starters
Here at Kurbo, we understand that there will be some challenges along your child’s health and wellness journey. And, some bumps are easier to bounce back from than others. Unfortunately, bullying can derail the efforts of even the most confident and dedicated children. While we cannot short-circuit the feelings of stress that come from hurtful comments or rude behavior, we can work to equip our children with ways to cope and stay on course with their health goals.
First, it is important to recognize that the fear of judgment from others is a completely natural and normal feeling. It’s safe to say that at some point in life most people have experienced the fear of what others think of them, either as a child playing on the playground, a teenager finding their way in high-school or possibly as an adult in the workplace.
So, why does judgment elicit such a strong response?
Fear of judgement is ingrained in the more primitive part of our brains, the amygdala, which is the processing center of our brain. The reaction to judgement is a survival mechanism triggering a “fight, flight or freeze” response. So, when we hear negative comments from others, it sends off warning signals in our brain, making us feel like we are in a survival situation leading to severe anxiety and stress.
Bullying can be overt and in your face, or it can be subtle and passive-aggressive. Negative comments, whispers or snickers from a group of bullies can cut a child deeply and leave lasting scars. No matter the shape or form it comes in, bullying hurts, especially if your child is working hard to create new habits or become more physically active.
It is important to provide children with ways to cope with bullying and manage the stress that can come from these hurtful situations.
How do I know if my child is being bullied?
Your child may show signs of bullying including:
- Becoming more introverted, sensitive, or less talkative
- Becoming easily agitated, argumentative, or hyper-reactive
- Losing interest in things they once enjoyed
- Faking illness to stay home
- Trouble sleeping
- Changes in appetite or eating habits
When these behaviors are observed or bullying is suspected, it is most important to first listen to the child’s experience and make sure they feel heard.
Sometimes children are afraid to come to their parents or a trusted adult out of fear that the adult won’t believe them, because the child thinks it’s their fault for being bullied, or that the adult might just tell them to just be stronger and stick up for themselves. Any of these scenarios could cause the situation to just become worse. So, be sure to praise your child for coming forward, for being honest and for their bravery. By honoring your child’s feelings and listening to your child, you are creating a safe place for them to share and ultimately learn some coping skills.
Still, we do not want to throw the term “bully” around loosely; bullying is something that should be taken seriously, which is why we must first listen and then evaluate. As a parent, you might have to privately determine whether what your child is experiencing really is bullying or if it is just mutual banter. The playful bantering between children is one thing, but when it becomes malicious, hurtful and no longer mutually accepted, then it enters into the territory of bullying and is unacceptable.
By definition, bullying is intentional tormenting in physical, verbal or psychological ways. Banter might be a more mutual, lighthearted teasing situation. Banter might get hurtful every now and then, but true bullying will consistently match the definition’s criteria.
Once you have identified what your child is experiencing is truly bullying, then it can be helpful to talk about how to deal with it in a healthy and meaningful way. Since the term “bullying” can be used to describe a wide variety of situations, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to dealing with it. It might help to try different approaches like the tips below.
Tips for helping your child navigate a bully situation:
- Talk to your child about “WHY” kids bully other children. Kids bully others so they can feel more important, popular or in control. Sometimes bullies choose a victim that they feel they can easily overpower because they look or act differently, but oftentimes bullies bully because they feel insecure or less confident than they appear. Usually, it has nothing to do with the person they are targeting and more to do with how they feel about themselves. It is important to stress that it is not your child’s fault they are being bullied.
- Advise your child NOT to respond to bullying by fighting or bullying back. Because “fighting fire with fire” can quickly escalate into violence, trouble and injury, it is best to walk away from the situation, spend time with others and tell an adult.
- Avoid the bully and use the buddy system. Although it is not always an option, try to buddy up with a friend when possible, especially in the locations where the bully is. Offer to do the same for the friend.
- Ignore the bully, be brave and walk away. This tip takes courage and practice. Firmly tell the bully to stop, then calmly walk away. Practice ways to ignore the bully, like acting uninterested or by giving your attention to something or someone else. By ignoring the bully, their power is taken away and they will usually get bored and move on.
- Revisit Kurbo goals if discouraged. When children work hard to make improvements to their health and their efforts aren’t recognized by their peers or, worse, they are bullied because of their appearance, it is important to go back to the beginning of their Kurbo journey and talk about why they are working to improve their health and why it’s helpful to focus on their goals. This is also something they can discuss with their Kurbo Coach on their next call.
- Continue to encourage and support their goals. This will help them focus on the positive things they are currently doing and will help bolster them up as they continue to work towards their goals. Encourage your kids to spend time with family and friends who have a positive influence. Participation in clubs, sports or other group activities builds strength and friendships.
- Celebrate their Kurbo progress! What is their reward for reaching milestones along the way? If you haven’t already, talk with your child about creating mini-milestones and goal rewards. They can use these rewards to celebrate their commitment to themselves. This will help them focus on the positive and stay on track with their goals. At Kurbo, we like to celebrate small wins, which helps build on the momentum they’ve created! For example: Reaching their daily green light goal for 7 days means they get a reward or special treat – not necessarily food, but a game, new shirt, toy, extra time on a device, etc.
Here is some advice from our Kurbo Students on how they have dealt with bullying:
- “I was bullied on the bus for my appearance and I told the bullies, ‘It is not okay to talk to anyone that way! Please leave me alone.’ Then I told the bus driver and my mom when I got home. I am proud of sticking up for myself,” a 3rd grader says.
- “I just ignore them if they say mean things. I don’t let them see me upset and I avoid being around the mean kids,” a 6th grader says.
- “I’m still kind to them. They may just be having a bad day. I always try to give people a second chance,” a 6th grader says.
- “I talk to my brother about it since he’s had kids be mean to him too. It makes me feel like I can deal with it in a way that won’t get me in trouble,” a 7th grader says.
- “I just draw and write in my notebook and ignore them. It still hurts, but I’m focusing on myself and not on them,” a 9th grader says.
Some children find that talking to a coach, teacher, counselor or sibling is easier than talking to their parents. Kurbo coaches can be a great resource for parents and children. They can offer support or ideas to stay on track with Kurbo and brainstorm healthy ways to deal with challenges. We are here to support you and your child so they can be the happiest and healthiest versions of themselves.
Coach Heather is a kid at heart, Duke Integrative Medicine Graduate, National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach, Founder and Owner of an Environmentally Conscious, Plastic Alternative, Food Wrap Company, Reiki Master and Certified EFT Practitioner. She lights up when she’s able to spread positivity, encourage healthy forward momentum, and flex her creative muscles!