The best way to teach children about bullying is prevention. From a young age you must instill in them a sense that mistreating anyone, at any time, for any reason, is wrong. This means fathers disciplining your child when they inappropriately express anger or react without self-control — and teaching your child to apologize and ask for forgiveness while explaining the value of empathy and sensitivity. This allows a child to understand that kindness is just as powerful as mistreatment, and everyone has a choice over which one they will display. Whenever your child sees a bullying scenario first hand, on T.V., or in a movie, use it as an opportunity to discuss what bullying is and ask them, “Is that wrong? Why?” and, “How can you stop that from happening?” This can stop the negative cycle of bullying before it begins in their personal experiences.
However, bullying does become a part of many children’s experience. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, more than 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year. And even though they’re not, many children feel alone.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Bullying
Take the example of Curtis Beane. His ears stuck out, and the bullies wouldn’t let him forget it.
In seventh grade, he was tripped, hit, mocked, pushed, isolated — first by a boy who decided that he wanted to hurt Curtis, and then by almost everyone Curtis considered a friend. Curtis’s parents transferred him to a new school, a fresh start. Things started to feel normal and Curtis was finally happy. But when he was 15, he was involved in a severe car accident that left one of his hands permanently disfigured. And while there were some students who treated him with compassion, others were cruel. They treated him as though he was a freak and called him names. His girlfriend broke up with him. Over the next few years, depression and anxiety plagued Curtis. When he was 23, he turned to drugs. He died of heart failure after taking meth.
Curtis’s father, Dr. Allan Beane, is the founder of the Bullying Prevention Program, and after his son’s death dedicated his life to helping schools implement his program. He’s now one of the world’s foremost bullying experts and has authored several anti-bullying books, including Protect Your Child From Bullying. And because he understands that the best prevention is education, Fatherly asked Beane to share his advice and knowledge on how to teach your kids about bullying — and how to deal with bullying as a parent.
When bullying happens firsthand, it’s a scary, shameful, and isolating experience. “Oftentimes, your children won’t tell you if they are being bullied,” Beane says. “And when they do tell you, it’s more likely than not been going on for awhile.” But whether you find out that your child is being bullied from your child himself, a school official, a friend, or if you suspect it yourself, the next steps you take to educate them about what is happening and why are imperative.
“You have to let your child know that you’re glad that they told you — or that you know now,” Beane says. “Kids are often worried that their situation will be problematic to others if attention is drawn to it, and they need reassurance that is not the case. Let them know that you’re confident that this problem can be stopped, but not if you keep quiet about it. Give them hope and let them know that they aren’t to blame and that it’s normal to be ashamed, sad, and hurt.”
The psychology of children who are subjected to bullying of any type is complicated. Oftentimes, they feel like they deserve the treatment, that they can’t have friends, that they are to blame, that things will only get worse unless they ignore it, and that they have no control over their situation.
“It’s important to reassure them that nothing is wrong with them, and that starts with understanding what’s wrong with bullying,” Beane says. In his educational resource, “Seven Things Kids Need to Know About Bullying,” he explains that bullies simply want to have power and control. Bullies want to hurt you, but not because of who you are — but because of who they are. Explain to your child that bullies are often scared, powerless, and insecure, and they don’t know how to solve their own problems so they cause problems for others.
The biggest tool in helping kids understand the fault of bullies is by using the Golden Rule. It is very easy to understand the idea that you should always “treat others the way you want to be treated.” Bullies are directly disobeying that common-sense social rule, so how can they be right?
By allowing children to feel like what is happening to them is wrong and unacceptable, you give them awareness that it can be stopped.
“Students who don’t want to mistreat others outnumber those who do,” Beane says. “Teach your child that ‘You have a lot of power. You don’t have to ignore bullying. You don’t have to laugh. You don’t have to do what the bully says.’ Take a stand against bullying and help each other.”
But “taking a stand” doesn’t mean, “retaliate.” In fact, that’s one of the worst things a child can do. When talking to your child about bullying, make sure they know that there are anti-bullying policies in every school that every state requires. Use your child’s school’s policy as an outline to let them know what kind of behavior will not be tolerated from anyone — whether it’s bullies or those being bullied. Instead, educate them that taking a stand means telling an adult about a bully’s behavior, writing down and recording your experiences, and going to school officials to get them the help they need.
Beane has developed a step-by-step tip sheet to help parents who find out that their child is being bullied—or is bullying others. Both instances require patience, understanding, and action from you as a father. “The most important thing you can do to teach your child about bullying is no one has the right to mistreat another person.”