A really good friend of mine was upset because her daughter was getting picked on by a bully at school. As a parent, this is one of the hardest things to deal with. We want it to go away. We want our children to see themselves how we see them, as the most wonderful children in the world. A mother’s hugs and holds do go a long way, but what goes even further is helping them the way you would help a really good friend. You’d offer a different perspective, one that is validating and empowering. You can’t tell your child how to feel or to ignore it; it’s an UN-ignorable situation.
I have a basic guide (you could even call it a script) that all my “bullying” talks with my elementary school son follow. I’m sharing it here, in case it can help one of you have a good talk with your child. This guide is not to be used instead of the hugs and holds; your child will still require those. This guide is to be used in addition to the hugs and holds. This script allows you to steer the conversation, but also allows your child to stay engaged and work through the critical thinking that most kids just learn naturally over a couple of decades. I’m not a therapist or anything, I’m just sharing from personal experience what has worked well for me.
The Bullying Pep Talk Guide
Child: (Very upset.) Jagger called me a dork. His friend did too.
Mom: (Validate your child.) That really is awful honey, what a horrible thing for someone to say!
(At this point the child will start paying attention because you’re already doing more than just discounting the bully’s words like most moms usually do. Obviously, the bully’s words mean something to the child, or they wouldn’t bother him. Consequently, discounting the bully’s words is not a strategic move.)
Mom: (Keep it light to ease in.) They MIGHT think you are a dork, but they’re only six years old, who are they to know? Are they the dork police? (Say “dork police” in a really childish mocking tone.)
Child: (The child will certainly say something to counter your mocking like)Yes, they are really popular.
(Here’s your hook line, don’t screw it up. Make it very thoughtful and powerful, almost as if you’ve just discovered some crucial part of a puzzle.)
Mom: Ooooooooooooh…. well, that explains it then.
(The child will be paying absolute attention to you, thinking they were present for the discovery of some huge revelation. Now is when you tell a story, a horrible story about when you were a child. I, myself, have plenty of true stories. If you don’t have your own, you can just use mine. Make it realistic, but also dramatic.)
Mom: When I was little, I got made fun of by popular kids a lot. I got called fat. They called me a dork. They made fun of my clothes. They made fun of my forehead. This girl, Julie, was one of the most popular girls in the entire school. Well, she hated me. She said I was ugly and she used to trip me… on purpose!!! Once, she did it in class and I fell.
(This is normalizing his feelings. Your stories show him you’ve been in his shoes. Always use a story from when you were young, because kids don’t really care about adult stuff from my experience.)
Mom: (Put a label on his feelings and actions, it will help your child make sense of it.) I used to cry about these things and then I’d get so mad because when it came down to it, I liked myself. Is that how you feel?
(Obviously, your child will say yes.)
Mom: That’s the worst part isn’t it? Knowing you’re such a good person and having other people, especially popular people, not really see the cool things about you?
(Obviously, your child will say yes.)
Mom: (Here’s your chance to help give your child a mature perspective. Whatever you do, say the following as though it’s gossip, and NOT parental advice.) Well, you know why they do it right?
(Of course, they don’t and even if they might, they will want to hear the gossip.)
Mom: Because they don’t like themselves.
(Your child will think about that for awhile.)
Mom: (Here’s your minute and a half to shove the parent garb in before you lose your child’s attention. To keep your child’s attention a little longer, use the “bad word.” For example, instead of less attractive, say ugly. Your child will be taken aback because moms don’t use those words.) Everyone has something we can make fun of. Some people are ugly. Some people are stupid. Some people are wimps. Some people are dorks. Some people are handicapped. Some people have lisps. Some people laugh a lot. Some people laugh loud. We’re all different. Nobody is perfect. Not you. Not me. And certainly not Jagger! When people like themselves, they get happy about these differences. When they don’t, they get mad, because they know they are different too, and they don’t want to be the different one, so they make fun of other people. The important thing to remember is that we’re all very different. That’s OK. That’s good. That’s the way we are supposed to be.
(End on a note of hope. Don’t drag it out any further. Your child will be thinking about your talk for days.)
Mom: Honey, everybody finds the right friends for them. Kids who make fun of you, aren’t good friends. So, try to just stay away from them. They might still come over and try to make fun of you, but you will know why they do it next time. If it continues to be a problem though, let me know and I can talk you your teacher.
Please remember, this is just a pep-talk guide. If the problem persists, you can’t just bury your head in the sand. Getting involved may be crucial to your child’s self esteem and happiness. It may also be important to role play “come backs” to some of the bully’s favorite insults or tactics. Join us on the forum or facebook to discuss this more.