1. Clearly define bullying behaviors. Understand and explain to your child that bullying is a form of violence. Bullying is a way for an individual or group of people to try to have control over someone else. While there are varying degrees, all bullying is physical, verbal, or emotional abuse. Bullying can take many forms including: name-calling, teasing, playing mean jokes, excluding from the group, threatening, telling ugly rumors, taking away personal belongings, cyber bullying, pushing, and hitting.
2. Ask open-ended question to spark conversation. How many times have you asked your child how her day at school went only to receive a terse "fine" or "lousy" and never really learned what happened during her day?
Many times when talking to a child, parents tend to do all or most of the talking. To encourage two-sided conversations, avoid posing questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Instead, try to ask your child open-ended questions that get him or her communicating with you. For example, ask questions like "What was the best part of your day today?" and "What was your least favorite part of the day?" Those responses will help open the discussion about your child's experiences, pressures, and feelings, and pave the way for deeper talks about issues such as bullying.
3. Know your child. Also, know what he does in his social life and the friends with whom he spends his time. That doesn't mean snoop through his personal belongings and stalk your child. Simply spend time with him and pay attention when he does share. Don't just hear him talk. Kids sometimes keep bad feelings or run-ins to themselves or only share the less embarrassing parts of the story with parents, so really listen to what your child tells you through his words, behaviors, and body language. Kids unknowingly send off signals that may clue you in to whether or not your child is being bullied or may, in fact, be bullying other kids.
4. Be honest and approachable. Be open with your child about your own past experiences and how you dealt with them. She may not choose to deal with issues in the same way as you, but knowing you can relate will make her feel more comfortable to share her own struggles. Even if you have few stories to share, remind her often that she can come to you about anything. And mean it!
True communication between you and your child also means allowing your child the freedom to voice his or her opinions and experiences. You don't have to like everything you hear. Chances are that you won't, but keep your own feelings and frustrations in check. Don't jump to conclusions, resort to name-calling, or act on your impulse to bully the bully. All you will accomplish with those types of reactions is to teach your child not to come to you the next time there's a problem.
5. Teach by example. This one may not be very popular, but it needs to be said. You can talk to your child about the wrongness and injustice of bullying until your face turns blue, but if you don't set that example in your own life, you send mixed signals to your child. Worse yet, you may be teaching your child how to be a bully or to allow himself to be bullied. Your actions will stick with your child far longer than your words. The most effective way to "talk" to your child about bullying involves much less talking and a lot more action. Lead by example.
Kids learn many of their bad behaviors and habits from watching their parents and following their examples. If your child experiences bullying from you firsthand, sees you acting like a bully to others, or watches you allowing others to bully you, that is what your child learns as acceptable behavior. Pay attention to how you talk to your child and others when he's around, how you allow others to talk to your child and you, and how you deal with your own emotions and frustrations. Your child is watching, listening, and learning.