Homeschoolers tend to think that their children won’t need to worry about bullies. Some may have started homeschooling to get away from bullies. It’s also true that homeschooling parents are more involved in their children’s lives, so bullies generally get caught and corrected sooner.
Sooner or later, though, it happens to most of our children. Someone will exclude them, be nasty to them, intimidate them. Lately, we’ve been getting more and more questions from parents who need help knowing what to do in these situations. Here are six things we’ve done when our children have been picked on or bullied:
1) We explain that often, a mean behavior is a result of fear. We sit down with our child and explain that frequently other children are mean to each other because they are desperately afraid that because they’re not the popular ones, someone will be picking on them. We explain that it’s fear-based, it’s ugly, and it’s displeasing to God, who says we should not show partiality (James 2:8-9). Their awful behavior isn’t about the victim at all.
2) We use this trial to teach them to be compassionate. We tell them to remember how horrible it feels to be on the receiving end of this stuff, so they never treat anyone else that way. Their righteous indignation at how they’ve been bullied creates a rare opportunity to help them understand how the Lord means for us to treat one another. I John 3:16 and following says,
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us,
and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need,
yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
3) We remind them they aren’t alone. Our Lord Jesus knows exactly how they feel. Jesus came to earth as one of us but was rejected by the very ones He’d created (John 1:10-11). We read to them about the hours before the Crucifixion and how Jesus was betrayed and mocked (Matthew 26). We assure them He knows just how it feels, and He loves us and sympathizes with us. We hold them tight while they cry and remind them of our love. It’s hard, but it helps.
4) We encourage them to act like believers. Revenge is not an appropriate response: God says that vengeance is His alone (Romans 12:19). Instead, Jesus said in Matthew 5, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” It’s really hard to pray for people who’ve been hateful to us, but that’s what God calls us to do. When we do, it changes us, too, and makes it easier to forgive.
We are sure to tell our child, though, that although it is “to your glory to overlook a transgression,” (Proverbs 19:11) if they are physically threatened, they have a right and duty to protect themselves. At one point, the Lord told the disciples to sell their garments and buy swords! (Luke 22:36). We tell our children, “Don’t start a fight, but if someone else does, then fight back. Defend yourself!”
5) We prepare them for the next time. People are like chickens, we explain—they tend to peck (or pick!) on those they perceive as weak. Often the biggest bullies are cowards at heart and will crumble when someone stands up to them.
It helps to role-play appropriate responses with them. A chicken that fluffs up its feathers and struts confidently across the yard is much less likely to get pecked on, so we talk to our children about how to respond when they’re picked on. It’s better to act strong and secure than it is to get mad or upset. It’s better to respond to teasing with a little gentle teasing back than to burst into tears.
6) Ultimately, though, we protect them. Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me—the nursery rhyme asserts, but it isn’t true. Bruises and scrapes will heal, but words can be replayed again and again in our minds, hurting us again each them. Bullying can cause lifelong struggles for our children.
If teaching our children better strategies for dealing with mean ones isn’t helping, we encourage them to go to the authority in charge and ask for help. Sadly, in our experience, it seldom does any good. Bullies are often very good at hiding their activities and taking advantage of parents who believe the best of them; still, it’s an important step in the process.
If going to the authority doesn’t help, then we take our child out of the situation. Sometimes that means we give up visiting with our friends, so that we can supervise the children’s play. It could mean skipping an activity, resigning from a club, or even leaving a church for good. We know too many adults who still struggle with being bullied as children. Our children deserve our protection!
When children get picked on, it could just be a transitory bit of spite. On the other hand, it could be very serious, even dangerous, maybe life-changing bullying. Our children need our wisdom and support, and sometimes our intervention. We’ve got to be there for them!