If you are a parent with school age children, you are aware of how devastating it can be when your child is bullied by another child.  Fortunately, bullying is on everyone’s radar, and teachers and schools are more aware of it than ever. But what happens when the conduct in question is subtle? What happens when it goes under the radar, hardly noticed not just by you the parent, but by your child? How is it possible that a child can be the target of bullying and not even know it? When a child is regularly and consistently made to feel inferior, either through someone else’s words or actions, they begin to believe that is the new normal. They actually forget that being treated nicely and respectfully is their due. Oftentimes, a child may not be able to articulate that they have been bullied until the conduct has finally ended; only then, in retrospect, do they realize that being mistreated was wrong and intolerable.

I am the mother of 3 children, of both genders, so between my own children and my friends’ children, we all know someone close to us that has been the target of bullying, psychologically and/or physically. In fact, I have received countless emails from moms all over the world detailing their child’s bullying story in connection with their curly hair. One mother described how her 6-year-old daughter refused to go to school because children on the playground were taunting her about her curls.

Bullying tells a universal tale.

The topic of bullying is hardly an easy subject, and any writing about it needs to be done carefully and thoughtfully. Today, I simply want to begin the conversation with a few ways you can react if you suspect your child is a target:

  1. First – listen to them without being judgemental- if you make too many judgments they may not open up about what is really going on; keep in mind that they may be in denial – bullying wreaks havoc with your emotions, confronting them head on may add to their humiliation and discomfort.  You will need to be there for them without judgement.
  2. To involve a teacher/guidance counselor or not- that is the question and it really doesn’t have to do with how old your child is; so long as they are children they  need adult intervention but you need to tread carefully and ensure you can fully trust the adult you take into your confidence. Speaking to a professional outside of school may be an appropriate alternative.
  3. Find them a friend outside of school- research supports that the single most important thing to give your child is a friend they can count on.  If that is not happening in school then look for it elsewhere.  Tap into your child’s interests and hobbies and sign them up for classes/activities where they can meet like-minded friends.  Once they find a real friend they will feel empowered to stand up for themselves.
  4. Empower your child both emotionally and physically; feeling strong emotionally can start with feeling strong physically. I recommend a great karate class, I have all 3 of my children taking karate and the mind/body connection and feeling of empowerment has ensured that if they are the targets of bullying they are at least somewhat equipped to take proper action.