First, the grandparent should try to elicit more information through gentle questioning. One of the most important questions to ask if whether this information has been given to the parents. If not, get the grandchild's permission to share it with the parents. If the child requests that the information be kept private, a grandparent faces a difficult decision. If you decide that the situation is serious enough that it must be shared with a parent, let your grandchild know what you are going to do. Don't do it behind the child's back.
Many grandparents grew up in a time when being bullied was considered just part of growing up. It's important for grandparents to realize that bullying is taken very seriously today. Never shrug off a child's report of being bullied.
As for giving your grandchild advice, it's best to have some input from the parents before you take any action. However, most parents will not object to your reassuring your grandchild that bullying will not be tolerated. In addition, unless you have a particularly strained relationship with the child's parents, you should be able to give some advice about how to respond to bullies in a non-aggressive way. Proper responses to bullying behavior vary according to the age of the child being targeted and according to the seriousness of the bullying behavior.
- While bullying does occur more frequently with older children, bullying does occur in preschool. Even quite young children can be taught to either respond to the bullying with a loud command ("Stop pulling my hair!") or by removing themselves from the area. If the bully persists, the child should feel free to tell the adult in charge.
- School-age children can use the same strategies and are more likely to have been trained by their schools in recognizing and responding to bullies.
- According to some authorities, bullying peaks in the tween years. Unfortunately, older children are less likely to confide in family members about harassment. Parents and grandparents should be alert for signals that children are being targeted.
- Teens who are targeted by bullies still need advice and support, even though they are old enough to be active in finding solutions. Serious depression and even suicide can result from teens being bullied, so it's important not to gloss over the problem. This is also the age when cyberbullying can be a problem.
- Bullying persists even into young adulthood, sometimes as hazing carried out by fraternities, sororities and other organized groups. Even as young adults, grandchildren may need help in sorting out what is acceptable and what is not and in developing strategies to deal with bullies.
Bullying sometimes occurs because children are different in some way, perhaps because they have special needs or because they are different physically from their classmates. The unconditional love usually offered by grandparents can be invaluable to such children, but children being bullied need specific help as well as that special grandparent affection.