All a Balancing Act

Just as kids are trying to walk the tightrope between individuality and acceptance to avoid being bullied, parents too are trying to find the right balance between helping and hindering their kids when it comes to bullying. Some of the common mistakes that parents make include ignoring or dismissing the issue, forcing their child to talk about the problem, advising their child to “walk away and ignore it” or to “fight back,” sharing excessively about their own experiences with bullying, or trying to solve the problem for their child. It can be tough to find the right balance between supporting but not rescuing, being objective yet compassionate, focusing on reality versus perceptions, and listening but not assuming.

The best way to approach your child if you think he or she is being bullied is to express your concerns using concrete evidence, frame your opinions as your own perception of the situation, and then allow your child to make the decision about whether or not to share with you. For example, you can say: “I’ve noticed that lately you’ve been spending more time alone, and you haven’t had much of an appetite. You seem sad to me. I’m always here to listen if you would like to talk about something.” Feel free to express your concerns often, as this shows your child that you care. This is often supportive and validating in itself – even if they choose not to share, he or she knows that you understand they are going through something important.

If your child chooses to talk with you about bullying, just listen. Stay calm, and do not jump into “rescue” mode. Do not describe your own experiences with bullying unless asked to do so by your child, and do not give advice about what you believe is the best way to handle it. Remember that every situation, every experience, and every emotion is unique. Say something like, “That sounds awful. I can’t image how upsetting that is for you. How would you like to resolve this? What kind of help would you like from me?” Recognize that most kids WANT to solve their problems independently, and the best way for them to learn how to do this is by allowing them the space to brainstorm solutions, make decisions and try out options. If you force your child to talk with you or try to fix the problem for them, you are sending the same message as the bully: “I don’t think you can stand up for yourself.” This does not mean that you should stand idly by while safety is a concern, but it does mean that you should value your child’s input and allow for open discussion. The best way to “teach” your kids how to solve problems is to role model – show your child what it means to have empathy for others, what it looks like to make a mistake and handle it with grace, how to be confident and appropriately assertive in social situations, how to think things through and weight options carefully, and how to respect one’s self with humility and humor.

Link of the Week: If Parents Got To Decide How To Help Their Kids

View my blog on the “Six Things Every Parent Needs to Know about Bullying

About Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker

Dr. Chaitra Wirta-Leiker is an adoptee, adoptive parent, and psychologist who provides mental health support focused on adoption, trauma, and racial identity work. She is the author of the "Adoptees Like Me" book series.