Advice from Denver Life

Teaching your kids to stand up to bullies. (And other advice.)

Illustration by Ingo Fast

My daughter is being bullied in school. How do I deal with it? —Cara, Mountain View

Bullying is a serious problem that can affect your child’s long-term health and self-esteem, so it needs to be dealt with right away. Start by reassuring your daughter that this isn’t her fault; lots of kids experience the same thing, just like the flu—and just like the flu, it can be cured. Teach your daughter tactics for dealing with her bully before getting involved yourself. At home, in front of the mirror, show her what a brave face looks like, and practice putting one on. She needs to learn to say “stop” (or even a diffusing word like “whatever”) in a loud, assertive voice. Teach her confident body language, like holding her head up and looking her bully straight in the eye. The next time her bully confronts her, tell her to use these tools, walk away, and tell a teacher. If this doesn’t work, contact the school yourself. As a last resort, you can confront the bully’s parents, but you should never approach them aggressively. Tell them you want to figure out a solution together, and meet with a school counselor to mediate. If none of this works and things get so bad that you’re concerned about your daughter’s safety, it may be necessary to contact the police. Colorado has a number of anti-bullying laws that you may be able to use to your advantage.

My parents never had the birds-and-bees talk with me, and I think that was a mistake. My oldest is getting interested in the opposite sex; any advice on how I should handle this? —Lawrence, Vail

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Ah, yes. This isn’t the hardest thing you’ll ever have to face as a parent, but it’s definitely one of the most awkward—and one of the most important. Don’t despair. First, remind yourself that many studies have shown that parents have a huge impact on their kids’ sexual (there, we said it!) decisions, more so than the media, peer pressure, and a host of other factors. So, yes, this is part of your responsibility as a parent. The earlier you start, the better. Elementary school is not too young. Just remember to stick to the facts and have lots of small, frequent talks. Casual repetition is more effective than a big, uncomfortable monologue. As your kids get older and the inevitable questions get more specific, consider using books, like the much-loved “Where Did I Come From?” by Peter Mayle. Look for teachable moments in movies, songs, and other media that can open conversation. And don’t just talk about the act of sex. Talk about puberty, bodily changes, relationships, consent, and other related topics. These are just as important as the mechanical details—probably more so.

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