If you're a parent, you bring your kids to their annual checkups, get their teeth cleaned twice a year and help them eat well and get enough sleep. You do this to keep them physically healthy, but what about their mental health?
For parents, it can sometimes seem difficult to monitor and gauge a child's emotional well-being, which is affected by a number of things that parents and children may not discuss. Having conversations around these issues is the best way to keep them in check. One issue that is of particular concern is bullying. Bullying is a big problem today — fueled even more in the age of the internet. Often, troubles with classmates are hidden from parents' view, whether they take place in the classroom, on the bus or online.
Nearly half (47 percent) of parents confess that one of their greatest fears is that their child will be bullied, according to a survey by Planet Fitness. And while nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of parents admit their child has been the victim of bullying, only 8 percent have children that talk to them regularly about it.
This is why it's important for parents to stay in tune to their children's behaviors and talk to them openly. If you notice your child acting differently, it may be because something is happening to them at school or a different setting. You can use your observations as an opportunity to start an important conversation about what’s going on.
"Be careful with how you perceive your child’s behavior, as the way they are feeling on the inside might not be the emotion they show on the outside," says Marc Brackett, PhD, director of Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence and lead developer of RULER, a school-based approach to teaching social emotional learning in classrooms that has been adopted by hundreds of schools and districts across the country, as well as adapted for after-school settings such as Boys & Girls Clubs. “If your child is acting out of the ordinary, for example, it’s best to speak with them about their day to help you identify the root cause of their actions."
Tips for meaningful conversation with your child
Fostering regular, meaningful conversation with your child helps build trust so that you can hear all about their experiences, both the good and the bad, and can weigh in with your loving support.
Share common experiences: To show empathy and help your child to understand they aren't alone, Brackett suggests that if you have ever experienced something similar to what your child is going through, such as if you were ever bullied, share that experience with your child. When you relate your experiences to your child’s situation, it will encourage them to share what happened and how he or she feels about it.
Brainstorm solutions: Ask your child what they want to do and how you can help, suggests Brackett. Come up with more than one option to deal with the situation. It's important not to dictate, but suggest solutions and encourage them to come up with their own ways of dealing with the situation. Your child needs to feel like a part of the action plan for it to work.
Utilizing proper tools will help you, your child and even your child’s school develop these action plans. PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center in partnership with Planet Fitness’ Judgement Free Generation, a philanthropic initiative that aims to prevent bullying and spark a pro-kindness movement, has created Bullying Prevention 101, a free-to-download resource designed to help elementary, middle and high schools build environments defined by kindness, acceptance and inclusion (by way of teachers, counselors and other educators). Experts from PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center also suggest parents:
Listen to kids without judgement: Let kids do the talking and follow their lead. Discuss their experiences with an open mind and open heart. Then discuss their ideas on how they want to handle the situation and let them know that you're there for them and will help no matter what.
Be aware of being bullied and being the bully: Sometimes if a child is being bullied, they are more likely to replicate that behavior elsewhere. First, recognize that children bully for many reasons. Next, help them understand how that behavior affects others and encourage positive solutions.
Encourage kindness: Help your child understand the importance of showing support and being kind to everyone, especially others who might be victims of bullying. Even if the crowd goes one way, it's always important to stand up for what's right.
For more ideas about fostering positive and productive conversations with young people about bullying, as well as to access Bullying Prevention 101 resources, visit https://www.pacer.org/planetfitness.