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How to Talk About Bullying

Talking about bullying can be difficult for everyone. There are many ways to raise the subject of bullying and start the conversation before bullying happens or if you are concerned that it may be happening.

How to Talk to Kids about Bullying – Tips for Parents and Caregivers

Children who experienced or witnessed bullying may want to discuss it with their parents, but not know how to bring it up. Some children may be afraid that they’ll be “in trouble” for what happened. Others may feel embarrassment or shame. A parent may notice changes in their child’s behavior and find it difficult to talk about it in a way that doesn’t make their child feel uncomfortable.
 

Don’t wait for bullying to happen before you talk about it. According to the Indicators of School Crime and Safety Report, 22% of U.S. students aged 12-18 reported being bullied at school in 2019. Children can be afraid to talk about bullying with their family. Parents create trust with children by initiating open, honest discussions. These dialogues provide opportunities to communicate values and learn about your child’s experience. They make it easier for your children to turn to you if they witness or experience bullying.

Initiate talks in the car, before or after homework, over dinner or breakfast, or when doing something together. Keep it casual and curious. Talk about the daily schedule. Listen. Show that you trust them. Ask open ended questions about their day or activities.

  • What’s the funniest thing that happened today?
  • What was the best and worst thing that happened to you today?
  • What new thing did you learn about a friend or another student this week?
  • What would you change about today?

For instance, share an age-appropriate story about bullying you experienced or witnessed.  Talk about how it was distressing, awkward, scary, upsetting, or left you with questions. Start with, “Hey, did I tell you about…?”

Bring up the subject of bullying as if it were a news item or a subject you want to learn more about.

  • I’ve been hearing about cyberbullying a lot lately. Have you ever seen it? How did they handle it? What would you have done?
  • Some of my friends were talking about bullying happening at their child’s school. Do you ever see any bullying happening? How did the school deal with it? What did you think of that?

Validate their feelings. Listen without judgement. Ask them some questions to get a feel for what they may need. Learn more about how bystanders can stop or respond to bullying.

  • What was it like for you to witness that?
  • Do you think the child who was bullied is ok?
  • Did you want to do anything in that situation?
  • How did other kids react?
  • Do you want to talk about different ways you can handle it if it happens again?
  • Is there anything you’d like me to do?

Ask open-ended questions to get more information about what happened, so you can help them learn how to identify bullying.

  • Where did this happen?
  • What was going on right before this happened?
  • How did the child being bullied react? Were they hurt or upset? (Bullying and teasing are different. If someone was upset by it, then it is likely bullying. Watch this video on the difference between bullying and teasing.)
  • Does the person who did it act this way with other people?
  • Do they normally get along or what is their general relationship to each other?
  • How did the others who were there react when it happened?
  • How would you have felt if it had happened to you?
  • Do you think this incident was meant to make someone look bad? (If yes, it was probably bullying.)
  • Do you think the person doing it wanted to purposely exclude or humiliate the other person? (If yes, it was probably bullying.)

Start the conversation in a general way. Let them know you are there for them no matter what.

  • I’ve noticed that you seem stressed/anxious/upset – has anything happened?
  • I’ve noticed that you’re spending more time alone/on your phone/in your room – is there anything you want to talk about?
  • Is there something going on at school that might be upsetting you?
  • I’ve noticed that you don’t talk about your friend(s) anymore. Has anything happened?
  • I’m here if there’s something you want to talk about.

Stay calm. Ask them questions as the goal is to hear about their experience, provide support, and to help prevent it from happening again. Determine if you need to talk to the school about it. Try to understand if there is a power imbalance between the one who bullied and the one who was bullied. A power imbalance is not limited to physical strength. It is sometimes not easily recognized. Learn more about what to do when your child has been cyberbullied.

  • Is there history between you? Have there been past conflicts?
  • Has this happened before? Are you worried it will happen again?
  • What will make you feel safer?
  • This isn’t your fault. No one deserves to be bullied no matter what was said or done.
  • Can I reach out to the school/teacher to talk to them about it?
  • Can we come up with some things you can do if it happens again?

Stay calm. Be open and listen. Ask questions. The goal is to help them learn from this and work through the reasons they did it so you can help them find other, healthy ways to deal with their feelings or situations that come up. You will also need to work with the school or parents to deal with it. Bullying is a behavior that can be changed. Your child will need help and support to learn new behaviors.

  • What was going on for you when you did this?
  • What were you thinking and feeling at the time?
  • How do you feel about it now?
  • How do you think the child you bullied felt?
  • Looking back, are there other ways you could’ve handled this?
  • Here are some other ways you could’ve handled it…
  • Is this the first time you did this?
  • Bullying is not ok. It’s important that we address this. If you were the one who had been bullied, what would you want to happen to make things better?
  • I’ll help you deal with this to make things right.
  • Thank you for talking to me about this. What I’ve learned is that you could use some help with… I will work on helping you/getting you help.


How to Talk to an Adult about Bullying – Tips for Youth

If you’ve been bullied, witnessed bullying, or bullied someone, you could use some support to deal with it. The first step is talking to a trusted adult about what you went through. This could be a parent, another family member, a friend’s parent, a teacher, coach, faith leader, or school counselor. Read some of the tips below to help you get started. Check out the videos for more examples.
 

It’s ok to say so and talk about how you feel. For instance, you could say “Mom, I’m kind of scared to tell you this, but…” or “Something happened that really bothered me….” Or “It’s really hard to talk about this…” or “I’m afraid you’re going to be mad at me, but…”

Tell them what you need from them in this situation. You could say “I just need someone to listen.” Or “I need help figuring out what to do.” Or “I don’t want you to talk to anyone about this. Just listen.”

You could say something like “Dad, something happened today…” or “I saw something today…” or “I did something today and I want to talk about it.” The most important thing is to talk to someone you trust about it. It’s ok if you blurt it out or don’t know what to say – just talk about it.

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