Your child comes home, seeming dejected, with reports of lower grades and a new habit of holing up in their room, not wanting to talk. As a parent, your radar is sounding off, you feel that something is just not right. After some masterful sleuthing, or a tearful admission on their part, you’ve come to find out your child is being bullied at school, and is now having a hard time concentrating in class.
Now you wonder, what do I do when my child is being bullied?
Bullying is a legitimate and prevalent concern for parents with children of all ages. Responding well as a parent can set the stage for teaching conflict resolution skills early in life. Below are steps you can use to equip and empower a child when he or she is being bullied.
1. Monitor your reaction:
When your child tells you they are being bullied, it’s natural to have a sense of immediate hurt, anger, and defense. These protective instincts are not altogether wrong, however, if you act upon your reactionary feelings, you may shut down opportunities for your child to speak openly about what is going on. Recognize your emotions about what your child is telling you, and process them at a later time as a parenting team or with trusted friends.
In the moment, attempt to remain neutral and supportive. Use open-ended questions and listen to your child. Take this opportunity to hear your child without judgment, and express your willingness to support and problem-solve alongside your child.
2. Form a positive relationship with school faculty or organizational administration:
Bullying should be of concern to faculty and administration at your child’s school. Communication with school or organizational faculty should focus on problem-solving, not blame. Become familiar with bullying policies related to the setting where the bullying is occurring. Use this understanding to speak with school or organizational personnel regarding how they intend to advocate for your child.
Then, establish what resources they can put in place to assist your child when bullying occurs. This may include: safe, trusted adults the child can talk to, a classroom or area where your child can go for protection if necessary, and a clear plan of action faculty and staff are going to take in response to bullying.
3. Document what is occurring:
Clearly document any and all evidence of bullying including: pictures of bruises, evidence of written verbal aggression to your child, text messages, pictures and conversations documenting cyberbullying, etc. Maintaining proper documentation ensures that you have an accurate understanding of what has occurred from your child and your perspective. This documentation can be used later if needed to prove what your child has experienced.
Now it is time to consider how you will problem-solve with your child. Bullies continue their aggressive behaviors most often due to satisfaction from the response they receive. If you choose to confront the bully or take it to his or her parents alone, this can lead to further issues.
The discipline for the bully’s actions is best established by the school or organizational administration. Your role as a parent is to teach your child how to problem solve and respond when bullying occurs. View this as an opportunity to teach your child life skills they will take well into the future. Overreacting, immediately removing them from the situation, or attempting to fix the problem for your child may deprive him or her of the opportunity to learn and develop conflict resolution skills. These skills are paramount to building self-efficacy and confidence.
Establish with your child a clear action plan for how to respond to the bully in future situations, including: using the buddy system, telling a trusted adult what is happening, avoiding showing an emotional reaction to the bully (as much as is possible), removing oneself from the bully, and going to the safe place and/or person established with school or organizational personnel.
Additionally, give your child skills to verbally respond without violence when possible. If your child needs to protect himself or herself verbally or physically, do not punish your child for doing so. However, encouraging your child to fight fire with fire is not appropriate, and leads to increased violence. Do your best to encourage nonviolent, assertive means of responding to your child’s bully.Help them understand that the administration will have to follow through with discipline for any party according to their own rules.
5. Brainstorm options for responding to the bully:
Bullies desire to see signs of the emotional or physical damage they are doing to their victims. Teach your child to deprive bullies of the desired reaction. If your child is being physically bullied, establish a plan of action that involves getting away from the bully to a safe place, and telling a trusted adult.
In the instance of verbal bullying and/or teasing, teach and practice with your child how to ignore the bully or respond by making a joke about the situation or comment(s). These responses take the intended sting out of the bully’s comments. However, your child may need to practice these responses more than once for a bully to stop their behavior.
In the instance of cyberbullying, ensure that you have access to your child’s social media accounts and text messages. Teach your child to block accounts of users who are cyberbullying. Best practice in the home is to not allow technology in the child’s room, and to require all devices be turned off and in the possession of the parent or caregiver at a specific time every night including weekends. This lessens the opportunity for cyberbullying to occur without your knowledge as a parent.
6. Empower your child:
Bullying naturally takes an emotional and psychological toll. Verbal and physical aggression and/or teasing can result in anxiety, anger, rejection, low self-worth, low self-esteem, and powerlessness. Empower your child to see the truth about himself or herself. A truth no bully has the power to take away or change.
Enroll your child in activities to foster these strengths and build friendships with children who have shared interests. Writing and reading social stories with your child is a creative means for applying your child’s empowerment in a practical way.
Lastly, consider a daily empowering routine with your child that includes two to three points on his or her strengths and a simple statement about how to respond to their bullies.
An example template of a daily empowering routine may be:
You are (brave, kind, important, etc.)
Your (actions, choices, etc.) are your own. And no one can take that from you.
Be safe, be assertive, be confident, be truthful.
Following these steps will ensure you and your child are working together to resolve conflicts.
You have a difficult, yet beautiful opportunity to teach your child life lessons that will equip them for the future. Seize these moments with your child, and don’t be afraid to reach out to your support system to process the real and natural reactions you have to your child’s experiences. Remember, we are here to empower you to equip them, so if you need some extra guidance, contact us today!