Bully Proof Your Family Part 2: Victim Blaming
By Jennifer Seawell, MD, FAAP
Bullying affects at least 1 in 5 children.
This is what is reported, and numbers may be higher since many children won’t share when bad things are happening to them. How can we help our children to share what they are experiencing? To start, we can do our best to avoid going thru the rabbit hole of victim blaming.
What is Victim Blaming?
Victim blaming is when the family or friends of the bullying victim suggest that the victim’s behavior caused or led to being bullied. In many cases, the first thing adults and other children do is ask the bullied child what they did to cause it. Did they start it? Did they say something mean first? Are they annoying? What’s wrong with the bully that made them a target. Would you want to share a bad experience with others if you knew that they’d blame you? What if you are already blaming yourself in your head?
Why do we do it?
Victim blaming is widely seen across all aspects of trauma. We see it in the courtrooms of domestic abuse and rape cases. The answer isn’t really simple, but in many cases, we do it to feel safe. After all, if the victim did something to allow the trauma to happen, then if we act differently we can avoid it. So we question our kids. What did you do for her to say that to you? Maybe he’d leave you alone if you wore different clothes.
How can we address the concern without blaming the victim?
When trying to get all the details of an instance of bullying, it is important to gather all the information, pretty or not. Keep the emotion out of it and try to sort out what happened.
- What happened?
- What was going on right before it happened?
- Who was there when it happened?
- Has this happened before?
- Have you seen this happen before to someone else?
- Were you scared? How did you feel?
- What did you do? What did your friends say?
- Were there any adults that saw what happened?
The goal with the questioning is to put together a clear picture of what is going on. You need more information to determine whether or not what is going on is meanness or bullying. If you are not sure if what is going on is meanness or bullying, check out this article by the Washington post. Asking questions can help your child process what happened and show that you care.
What to avoid when asking questions..
- Try to avoid big shows of emotion when asking questions. At this point, you are gathering information and your job is to stay neutral.
- Do not tell your child that they are being too sensitive. This suggests that the problem is them and minimizes the pain and frustration they are feeling.
- Do not suggest that they caused the problem or that they need to change something about themselves to prevent it from happening.
What to remember when asking questions..
- Be empathetic. Imagine how you’d feel if you were in your child’s shoes and this happened to you.
- Be calm. Right now you are gathering information. It’s super tough when your baby is hurting, but reign in mama bear (or papa bear) until you’ve gathered all the info and have developed a reasonable plan.
Hang in there. You have the tools for helping your child thru this. And if all of us band together, we can change things for the good of all of our children. For information on acknowledging the bullying problem, check out my post Bully Proof Your Family. Part 1: Acknowledge the Problem. Next week, I’ll be posting on Recognizing the Signs.
The Pediatric Ninja
This article is the professional opinion of its author and is not intended to take the place of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment from your personal physician.