By Jan Hittelman

Bullying is a problem that affects children around the world. It is typically defined as ongoing and repeated negative behavior towards another, usually someone who is more vulnerable emotionally and/or physically. Bullying can be verbal or nonverbal communication, physical contact, social exclusion, or noncompliance with another’s wishes. In recent years, schools have become more aware of the problem and put non-bullying policies and procedures in place to address it. The recent advent of cyber bullying has made it even more challenging, seemingly increasing the negative effects of bullying and resulting, in some cases, with victims even committing suicide.

While we tend to empathize with the victim and demonize the aggressor, we know that most children participate in bullying behavior on occasion. While establishing clear rules and consequences for bullying behavior is important, efforts to educate children about appropriate social interaction is key. While it is important for this to take place in the school, it is even more critical that parents discuss these issues home and establish clear guidelines for appropriate social behavior in and out of the home. A good place to start is a simple discussion with your child about the topic of bullying. For a successful conversation, consider these steps:

1. Before lecturing to your child, simply ask some basic questions to get a sense of your child’s experience with bullying, both as the victim and as the aggressor. Keep in mind that children may be reluctant to acknowledge this out of fear or shame.
2. Help your child develop social perspective taking, by imagining how both the victim and bully may feel.
3. Assist your child in developing protective strategies and increased resiliency (e.g. understanding the importance of telling someone and knowing who they can talk to at home and in school, minimizing reactions to bullying behavior so as not to reinforce the aggressor, resisting peer pressure in bullying others, etc.)
4. Frequently checking-in and revisiting the topic to monitor ongoing behavior and assist where needed.
5. If you find that your child is being bullied, contact your child’s school immediately and work collaboratively to address the problem.