A friend was just heartbroken, “My preteen son was visibly upset after children’s choir last night. When I probed, he said he didn’t like his class any more and he wanted to quit. After probing even more, he said, fighting back tears, that when he went to sit down, the kids told him that he couldn’t sit there because they had better friends to sit with. My heart just broke into a thousand pieces. I am so angry and hurt for him! What do I do?”
Oh no! This stuff really hurt when we were kids. I had no idea it would hurt even more to see your child go through it, but it does.
Sooner or later, it happens to most of our children. Someone will exclude them, be nasty to them, bully them. Here are five things we’ve gone when it’s happened to ours:
1 – We explain that often mean behavior is a result of fear.
We sit down and explain to them that kids are mean to each other because they are all desperately afraid that if they aren’t the popular kids, someone will be picking on them. It’s fear based, it’s ugly, and it’s displeasing to God, who says we should not show partiality
. It’s really not about the victim at all.
2 – We use this trial to teach them to be compassionate. We tell them to remember how horrible it feels to be on the receiving end of this stuff and that we want them to remember that all their lives, so that they never do that to anyone else. Their righteous indignation at how they’ve been treated creates a rare opportunity to help them really understand how the Lord means for us to treat one another. I John 3:16 and following says,
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
3 – We remind them that they aren’t alone.
Our Lord Jesus knows exactly how they feel. Jesus came to earth as one of us, but was rejected by the very ones He’d created. We read to them about the time before the Crucifixion
and point out how Jesus was betrayed and made fun of. We assure them He knows just how it feels and He loves us and sympathizes with us. And we hold them tight while they cry and remind them of our love. It’s hard, but it helps.
4 – We prepare them for the next time. People are like chickens, we tell them. They tend to peck (or pick!) on those they perceive as weak. Often the biggest bullies are cowards and only need someone to stand up to them.
It really helps to role play appropriate responses with them. A chicken that fluffs up his feathers and struts confidently across the run is much less likely to get pecked on, so we talk to our kids about how to respond when they’re picked on. It’s better to be strong and seem secure than it is to get mad or upset. It’s better to respond to teasing with a little gentle teasing back, than it is to burst into tears. It helps to act out different situations.
5 – Ultimately, though, we protect them. Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me, the nursery rhyme asserts, but really it isn’t true. Words can be replayed again and again in our minds, hurting us again each them. Bullying can cause lifelong struggles for our kids.
If helping our kids learn how to interact better with mean kids doesn’t help, we encourage them to go to the authority in charge and ask for help. Sadly, in our experience that seldom helps, as bullies are often very good at hiding their activities and taking advantage of parents who believe the best of them, but it’s an important step in the process anyway.
If going to the authority doesn’t help, we get our child out of the situation. Sometimes, that means we give up visiting with our own friends to supervise their play, but it could even mean leaving a club, an activity, or a church for good. We know too many adults that still struggle from being bullied as children. Our children deserve our protection.
When our kids get picked on, it could just be a transitory bit of spite or it could be very serious and dangerous bullying. Our children need our wisdom, support, and sometimes intervention. We’ve got to be there for them!
Hal & Melanie
Many children are bullied on social media and sadly many of their parents don’t even know what they are doing online. Know where your kids are online and keep them safe. We use Covenant Eyes (affiliate link!)
and LOVE it!