Photo by Jerry Zhang on Unsplash
Photo by Jerry Zhang on Unsplash

Being Open About Bullying


We have two children in middle-school and both have talked with us about their discomfort at the bulling they see almost every day.  We don’t think they are being bullied, but we want to create a home where they would feel free to talk with us if it ever happened.  Any suggestions?


For several years I was part of a small group that met in a lovely neighborhood just a block from Columbine High School.  On April 20, 1999, two high-school students killed 12 students and a teacher at that school and subsequent interviews suggested that part of the motivation of the killers might have been to retaliate for the fact that they had been bullied.

While bullying has been around since the beginning of time, we have seen an escalation of hurtful, hateful, and destructive behavior in adults and in children.  Surveys indicate that at some point, one-third of kids in school are bullies or bullied — or both

Dr. Gabrielle Maxwell of NoBully, an organization that works to stop bullying in schools, says that bullying has three features:

  1. It is hurtful and is done on purpose.
  2. It is repeated.
  3. It is difficult for those being bullied to stand up to their tormentors.  So what can you do?

The foundational first-step is to cultivate an emotionally-intelligent home where emotional awareness and expression is modeled and encouraged.  Put names to your emotions and help your kids become emotionally fluent.  Being able to name an emotion will give them an increased sense of understanding and control over what they are feeling.

Make sure they know that their home is always a safe place to discuss any emotion, especially painful or embarrassing ones.  When they share a painful emotion, train yourself to respond and not overact.  Again I say, don’t overact.  An overreaction is likely to shut them down and make it less likely for them feel safe to open up in the future.

Another important step is for you to be aware of the symptoms of being bullied, including changes in eating habits, unexplained injuries, depression, declining grades, sleep difficulties, and self-destructive behaviors.

Ask them if they have friends who are being bullied.  Ask them if they have ever been bullied.  If so, what did they do?  How did they respond?  If not, what will they do IF it ever happens to them?  Would they be willing to talk with you about it?  Ask them how you might be able to, as a family, pray for some of their friends who struggle in this area.

If you sense that bullying might be taking place it is essential for you to intervene as early as possible.  If you’ve created an emotionally-healthy home they will probably tell you about it before you have to ask.  That’s one sign of a healthy home.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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