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No matter what the scenario, bullying is a frightening and emotionally draining experience for kids of all ages.
Fortunately, there are ways to help your children handle bullies -- but it can be hard to know what your kids need and when you should step in.
We turned to Dianne O'Connor, a child psychologist based in Toronto, for some expert advice on how to provide the best support for your children when dealing with bullies.
1. Help your kids identify the signs of bullying
Let your kids know what kinds of behaviour they should not be tolerating from anyone, whether it's physical harm or verbal abuse. When your children can identify destructive behaviours they will be better able to recognize them, point them out and prevent them.
"Discuss with the child what bullying is: behaviours or words that hurt, either emotionally or physically," says O'Connor. These also include behaviours that hurt socially, affecting reputation or friendships, she explains.
Make sure that your children know that bullying isn't limited to punching and kicking, and that it's OK to feel hurt by things that others say.
2. Teach your kids to prevent conflict
The best way to deal with a bully is to prevent conflicts before they even begin. Ensure that your children are equipped with the tools required to nip a potential conflict in the bud.
"In mild cases, teaching social skill behaviours to children can help," says O'Connor. "Conflict resolution and problem-solving skills around the issue can also be useful, and role-playing these as they apply to the situation might benefit in less severe situations."
Practise preventing conflict with your kids by role-playing at home. Act out any scenarios that your children find worrisome and offer options for how to handle each one.
Page 1 of 2 -- Discover three more helpful ways to help your kids deal with bullies on page 2
3. Create a safe space for communication
Make sure your home is a space where your kids feel confident that they are safe and free to be themselves, and where you can communicate openly about what happens when you're not around. "What the child needs is support and adult protection, a safe place and freedom from harassment from the bully," says O'Connor.
Parents who are supportive and validating, and who work to create an environment where open communication is welcome tend to have the healthiest conversations with their children. If your kids are worried you might get angry if they tell you about a conflict at school, they'll keep it from you, which could make the problem worse.
"Children need to feel confident, secure and safe in discussing their feelings and the events of the day with a parent," explains O'Connor. "They need to know their parents are strong and caring and can work with them to support them in whatever way is needed."
4. Know when to step in
It's not easy to know if you should step back and let your child deal with an issue or if you should take the reins. Sometimes all it takes to get though a conflict is some support on your end.
"If the problem is minor and the parents feel it's something they can address with the child and work through, and the child is otherwise coping and doing well, see how things go," advises O'Connor.
However, if your child is having trouble with schoolwork or is expressing difficulty focusing in other areas due to distraction as a result of the bully, it may be time to take matters into your own hands.
5. Talk to the other parents about bullying
If you decide to contact the bully's parents, approach the issue with a fair and rational mindset. "Treat it as a problem-solving situation," says O'Connor. "State your view: that your child is feeling hurt and upset around interactions with their child. Open the lines of communication and invite the parents to work with you to help solve the problem. See if you can try to work together to help both children build a healthier relationship with each other," she advises.
Remember that two sets of heads are better than one when it comes to problem-solving, and that both sets of parents ultimately just want what's best for their children.
While you can't control how other kids act on the playground, you can prepare your own children for the potential conflicts they may encounter in life. That starts with support, validation and a good example and solid support system at home. From there your kids will hopefully develop the confidence they need to stand up for themselves in any situation.
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