Hearing that your child is being bullied can cause a wide range of emotions. Parents may react with anger, sadness, frustration, shock, defensiveness and even embarrassment.
These are your protective instincts, which are normal and okay to feel. But if you want to help your child you need to step back and consider the situation and the next steps carefully. To do this, you need to remain calm and in control of your own emotions.
Why is it important to remain calm?
This might seem like an easy question to answer but consider the following:
- When we talk to teen girls about why they don’t tell their parents about being bullied, we hear over and over again that they are scared their parents will “freak out”.
- Children will do almost anything to keep from upsetting their parents, including keeping secrets that may be harmful to them. When you react too strongly, even if you are being protective, your daughter may feel defensive or upset and she may avoid talking to you again about bullying.
- Being bullied is humiliating and so is talking about it. If you become upset or show strong emotions, they may become upset too and feel worse about themselves and the situation.
- Girls are scared parents will take action without talking to and consulting them first. By staying calm it encourages your daughter to trust you and will help you both think logically about the next steps to take.
- When you remain calm, you encourage your daughter to tell her story, let her feelings out, and help her release stress she may be feeling.
How to remain calm
Before reacting you need to listen! Listening to your daughter is necessary so that you know how to react. As much as it hurts to listen you need to be open and able to hear what she has to say.
- While your daughter is talking, try to view the situation objectively. This will help you determine how serious the situation is. It is okay to take your daughter’s side, but try not to inflate the situation with your own feelings and opinions.
- Use emotion regulation by breathing or counting to 100. Do what you would normally do to calm your nerves and feelings.
- Do not personalise what is happening to your daughter. Of course this problem is personal to you, but try to not project your own experiences with bullying on your daughter’s experience. It is okay to empathise with her, but bringing up your past will only make you and her feel worse.
- Wait to take any action. Of course you want to protect your daughter and feeling angry at the bully is okay. But don’t take any action unless you are calm, have had time to think about the situation and have talked with your daughter about what to do next.
- Focus on how you can be a loving and supportive parent.
- If all else fails, bring someone else into the conversation who you trust and can help keep things calm such as a spouse, family member or family friend.
* * *
This is an extract from a guide developed for parents by a research team led by Dr Ryan Adams from the Department of Behavioural Paediatrics at Cincinatti Children’s Hospital entitled Girls Guide to End Bullying. Development of the guide was supported by Procter & Gamble and the Secret brand.