When Words Wound — Helping Your Child Cope with Verbal Bullying

The casual cruelty of classmates and peers can decimate your children’s self-esteem, cause their grades to plummet, and make them shy away from their favorite extracurricular activities. But parents can be unsure whether intervening will help or hinder their kids when coping with verbal bullying. Taking cues from your child can help determine your course of action.

Age Matters, but That’s Not All

The younger the children, the more likely parents will need to run interference for them. A 6-year-old doesn’t have the same coping skills as a 10-year-old or an 8th-grader, causing parents to take a more active role in helping them problem-solve this particular sticky situation.

However, an otherwise self-confident 6-year-old with an outgoing, upbeat personality may be handling unkind remarks about physical attributes or differences better than an introverted, diffident 11-year-old. Knowing if kids are able to shrug off verbal bullies’ taunts or if they cringe inwardly as the cruelties replay in endless inner loops requires communication. Consider the circumstances of your awareness of the problem. Did your child share this willingly with you? Or did a teacher, bus driver or other authority figure inform you that your child was being victimized by verbal bullies?

Kids who are open with their parents about their problems may be reaching out for help or just venting about a problem they are handling themselves. Gently asking open-ended questions that allow them to tell the story in their own way can be insightful. Watch their demeanor as they relate the hurtful words used. Anger can be a good sign, as long as it isn’t destructive, as it indicates their understanding that no one should have the right to call them a pejorative name or otherwise belittle them.

But if you have to pry the words that were flung at your child, and only learned about the bullying from another source, they may really be struggling to cope. This could indicate that they are internalizing the verbal bullying and it may have already become part of their own inner dialogue.

Choosing Your Strategy

Parents should make sure that children always feel secure discussing their concerns with them. Providing a supportive, loving environment to share fears, doubts and worries is the key to keeping those vital lines of communication open. Below are some suggestions to help kids emerge unscathed from an episode of verbal bullying by their peers.

  • Get a beat on the situation by asking what your children have already tried in their attempts to stop the problem. Ask their opinion of whether or not these attempts have worked and the ways you could help them feel safe again.
  • Brainstorm possible responses and pay attention to their suggestions. See whether your children seem to have a peer support system already in place or whether they feel as if they’ve been thrown to the wolves. Learn whether they feel supported and defended by their teachers.
  • Remind your children of the strengths they have that can help them solve this problem. Encourage them to branch out and make friends with kids who share their interests and aptitudes so they don’t feel alienated by their peers.

Involving the Authorities

After a frank discussion with your child, you will have a better grasp of what your own response to the situation needs to be. Sometimes the best course of action is to allow kids to continue dealing with bullies on their own. But some situations call for a stronger parental response. If your children appear overwhelmed, out of their element completely or if the bullying problems appear to be escalating, it’s time for parents to step in. Letting your children know that you will be handling the problem now may be a huge relief and show them you continue to be their closest ally in meeting the challenges of life.

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