He slowly walked along the sidewalk with his face pointed down to avoid eye contact. I reached for his chin when he got closer and noticed redness around his eyes.
I asked quietly, “Is everything okay? You look upset.”
His face dropped in embarrassment. He reached up and pushed my hand away so I couldn’t see his eyes.
After a few minutes of quiet, he looked up, pretending nothing was wrong.
“It wasn’t a big deal,” he muttered as if trying to convince himself. “They didn’t like my comments. I shouldn’t have said anything. I’m okay. Really.”
His eyes welled up with tears, and I felt my own beginning to build as I quickly searched for the kids who hurt him. I thought, “Nobody messes with my son.”
“What happened on your walk?” I questioned. “This isn’t like you to get so withdrawn.”
“Listen to me; I want to get to the bottom of this right now!”
My middle schooler would rather hide in the car than be viewed as weak in front of his siblings or me.
We loaded up the car and headed home, hurting hearts and bruised ego in tow.
Away from the public, he told me what happened in the park.
After working through a heap of mom guilt for not protecting him, I again began to tear up. This only made him feel worse about the situation.
I went on to tell him a story of my own—how I felt helpless, not knowing what to do. I continued sharing how I had wished my mom had known, as I’m confident she would have offered good advice…at least better advice than what my friends had provided. They had said it was no big deal, but I disagreed.
“Being bullied by someone hurts,” I told him. “It is painful both emotionally and physically.”
I affirmed that feeling embarrassed is a normal response. Especially when you feel like you weren’t able to avoid being hit. That’s how bullies operate. They look for people to prey on.
I’ve spent a great deal of energy in my life trying to avoid bullies, mostly by not calling them out and staying off their radar. But you know what I’ve realized? That’s no way to live. I sure didn’t want my middle school son to do I as did.
Have you ever been bullied? If so, I bet you have vivid memories of that experience. Most people do. Being bullied triggers thoughts and emotions that linger long after the event has transpired.
Most moms think that because they are homeschooling, their kids are safe from being bullied. That’s what I thought until it happened to my son. Sadly, as in the case of my child, homeschool students can be bullied by neighbor kids, at youth group, while playing sports, at co-ops, and at work. The key isn’t to try and avoid all mean people; it is to teach and train our kids how to respond if they are targeted by a bully.
Here are some suggestions to help you with your child if he becomes a target:
Gather the details.
Fear and avoidance of places or people are indicators something might be going on. Such sites could be a youth group, co-op classes, the park, sports practice, etc. If you notice hesitation or insecurity, then get alone with him for a few minutes and ask what is wrong. Trust your instincts. You know your child better than anyone.
Don’t assume he did something wrong.
Pay attention to how you gather information. If I’m not intentional about the way I enter the conversation, I will put my kids on the defensive by asking them what they did. The goal is to get your child to open up. Ask what the other person did first, followed by if he knew what provoked the bully’s actions. Accusing your child of causing the altercation might hinder communication.
Affirm his fears.
My son was visibly shaken and fearful afterward. He needed to know that being afraid, even angry, is a typical response. Remind him it takes time to process the incident.
Soothe the hurt.
Children who have been bullied need your love and support as they work through their feelings. Some kids want to talk about it a lot, while others, like my son, didn’t want me to bring it up. Knowing you’re available to listen makes all the difference. They don’t feel pressure to talk about it. Your goal is to soothe the hurt others have inflicted.
While being afraid and angry are to be expected, you must help your child move past the emotions and offer forgiveness to those involved — including himself if warranted, as was my son’s case. Forgiveness isn’t optional. If feelings of ill will toward the bully are held onto, it will only hurt the one bullied, not the bully.
Monitor the situation.
If the person is someone they see often, you would be wise to be observant. It might be tempting to talk to the parent, school administrator, a coach, or a teacher, but I would recommend you discuss it first with your child. Many times the fear of retaliation or appearing incapable of handling the situation without mom or dad could strain your relationship with your child. That said, you are the parent. If you fear for your child’s safety or sense the situation is escalating, tell the appropriate authorities right away.
Check in periodically.
Years later, I would ask my son how he was doing. His emotional, mental, and spiritual health were my biggest concerns. Events during the teen years may trigger thoughts that cause him to doubt himself.
I can’t tell you how important prayer is when dealing with bullies. Praying together provides a sense of being empowered instead of being powerless. Throughout the process, point out the goodness of God. Remind your child God is our rock and refuge. He will not let others go unpunished. He fights our battles.
Looking back, I see how that unexpected walk in the park grew my then-tween into a wiser young man. It influenced him greatly. He learned to be careful with his words. He learned how to avoid being bullied. He also learned he had someone to talk to. He could trust his parents with his thoughts as he worked through the feelings.
Never underestimate your influence. A child needs a parent who will lovingly guide them through the twists and turns of life.
*I’m not a licensed therapist and am not providing such information. This post is based on our family’s experience and offers suggestions we learned in dealing with being bullied. Never underestimate the impact a bully may have on your child. The degree of bulling and the duration of such actions may require additional intervention from outside sources. If you believe your child needs to talk to a trained counselor to assist the healing process, then do some research to find local counseling centers to help. In seeking out a counselor, look for one who shares your moral and spiritual values.