Back-to-school school season can bring on a rush of emotions. It can be a scary time for both you and your child as you send them off to an environment free from your supervision. But you aren't alone, mama.
We have had the opportunity to personally connect with hundreds of thousands of students who all come to school with a different story, but share the same desire: to be loved and accepted by their peers. We've seen what resonates and what doesn't—and want to help parents navigate these conversations, whether your little one is starting preschool or heading into high school.
Here are four tips to help guide you as you talk with your child:
1. Remind your child that you’ve walked in their shoes.
Letting your child know that you walked through your own school hallways and struggled with similar (if not, the same) social pressures or feelings that they may be facing today is so important.
This is the first thing we do in every Kind Campaign Assembly and have found that sharing our personal testimonies creates a more open space for young people to feel comfortable with sharing their stories and listening to advice. It's important to bring yourself into their world to help them realize that you truly understand what they are going through.
Also important to remember that your child may feel embarrassed to talk to you about being bullied or bullying someone else, so acknowledging that they are not alone will not only establish a deeper connection with them but also give them reassurance and support.
2. Listen without judgment.
As a parent, your instinctive response to your child opening up may be to give your thoughts right away. Try to refrain from interrupting and choose to listen first. You want to establish a safe space for your child so that they feel comfortable about turning to you in the future.
It may be helpful to be straightforward and say something like, "I want you to feel safe to share whatever it is you are going through, so I am just going to listen and not say anything until you have shared everything you want. Know that you can tell me anything."
Honoring their voice and ownership over their experience can be very empowering for them. Once your child has finished sharing, take a moment to absorb what you've heard. It may be painful, heart-wrenching, or even infuriating, depending on the situation.
Here are a couple of suggested scripts to respond to different scenarios:
For the parent whose child is being bullied: This is not your entire story. When you are in school, it can be hard to see beyond your school hallways and to understand that there is so much more to life. School is just one chapter of your story, one fraction of the life you will lead. I remember walking down my own school hallways and feeling like it was my entire world. There were times when I felt alone and I was scared to wake up and face certain people at school. Looking back now, I wish that I could travel back in time and tell my younger self that I was going to be okay, and my life ahead would be filled with new friends and exciting adventures. It truly gets better. Most of all, know that whatever pain is being inflicted upon you has nothing to do with the person you are, and usually has everything to do with an insecurity within the person inflicting that pain.
For the parent whose child is bullying others: Your words and actions can have a life-changing impact on a person - good and bad. One mean comment you make to someone may affect that person's own self-confidence, self-worth, and relationships with other people, even 20 years later.
Your words and actions can truly reshape a person's entire life. Know that when you are older, you will look back with regret. And you don't want to live with the weight of those regrets. You need to apologize to the person you have been bullying. Apologizing is not only healing for the person you have been hurting, but it is healing for yourself, too. You can start anew by choosing to be kind. It feels so much better.
If your child is bullying someone at school, try not to blame yourself and jump on the defense. Instead, realize that how you handle your child's bullying is just as critical as your child's bullying, itself. You can make this a teachable moment for your child, encouraging them to apologize to those they have hurt and speaking to a counselor.
Know that some of the best parents have kids who bully other kids. What counts most is the work you put in to establish trust and repair the situation alongside your child.
3. Encourage your child to seek help.
Whether your child is being bullied or is bullying someone, connecting with a faculty member or a counselor may help your child's healing process. We know going to a counselor may frighten your child at first. If that's the case, walk your child through different options for resources, and remind them that there is nothing wrong with seeking help. In fact, it builds a stronger sense of self.
4. Enroll your child in extracurricular activities.
Talk to your child about their passions. Are they interested in sports? Art? Music? Science? By getting your child involved with activities outside of school, they will be able to build their self-confidence. This will also create a sense of community for your child to be a part of, as well as an activity to look forward to outside of their school hallways. Extracurricular activities also act as a place for your child to meet like-minded people and even new friends.
There used to be little-to-no conversation about bullying taking place in schools in years past. Bullying was once seen as a "rite of passage" and, too quickly, swept under the rug. Today, schools feel an urgency to implement programming into their curricula in order to keep their hallways safe.
We know that sending your child off to school can be scary, but we want you to have hope. Through fostering open and honest conversations about bullying with your child, you instill confidence in them to stand strong for themselves and others in school and to trust you to help them along the way.