By: Rebecca Michelsen, M.Ed., MCHES, Manager of Community Outreach & Family Programs, Penfield Children’s Center

In the early years, our children form friendships through child care and playdates orchestrated by their parents. Common toddler behavior such as crying when they don’t get their way or taking a toy from the other child might occur, but it is most often mitigated by the watchful parent.

When children enter school and begin to form their own friendships, parents have less control over who their children spend time with. But, it’s important to let children form friendships as it is healthy for them to make connections on their own.

While most friendships are positive, as a parent, keeping an eye on who your child spends time with is a good idea, especially if your child’s friends exhibit bullying behaviors.

Some of these types of behaviors include:

  • Encouraging classmates to exclude certain children
  • Teasing and calling people names
  • Purposefully talking to classmates about playdates or birthday parties they were not included in
  • Acting out in a physically aggressive way toward peers

If you feel your child has become friends with a classmate who exhibits bullying behavior, should you try to stop him from being friends with that child?

While it would be nice to have that control over your child’s friendships, it’s not always possible. In fact, telling your child who he can and cannot hang out with might actually have the adverse effect you were hoping for.

Try this approach instead (unless you are concerned with your child’s safety or the safety of others; in that case, it’s always appropriate to intervene): Start a conversation with your child about the qualities that make up a good friend and those that don’t. Kids are pretty good about being able to list these qualities.  This will allow your child to actually think, “Is Billy being a good friend to others?”

Encourage your child not to ignore the behavior. Instead, tell him how important it is to stand up and say something if his friend is bullying other children.  If he sits on the sidelines, he could get lumped into being labeled a bully as well.

Role play “what if” scenarios to give your child practice responding to bullying.  Build your own child’s self-confidence and coping skills, as bullies look for power and control and a confident child is less likely to get picked on.

Lastly, reach out to your child’s teacher. Tell him/her that you are concerned about the situation and ask how the school typically handles bullying situations. He/she might also be willing to take steps to limit the time your child and this friend spend together by encouraging them to pick different partners for school projects and/or bringing in a guest speaker to address bullying issues at the school.

Has your child had to stand up to bullying behavior at school?


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