Are you suspicious your child may be getting bullied at school? Has your child told you they are being bullied? Bullying has become such a serious issue in today’s world. Understanding bullying and what it is can also be difficult because the word is used so frequently. The term might be used to describe such a wide range of situations that there’s no one-size-fits all approach. What is advisable in one situation may not be appropriate in another. To make things more difficult, many times kids won’t ask for help. Parents play a key role in preventing and responding to bullying. So how do we help as parents? The first step to helping your child through this difficult time is to better understand bullying and the warning signs.
First, there are three types of bullying:
Verbal bullying is saying or writing mean things. Verbal bullying includes:
- Inappropriate sexual comments
- Threatening to cause harm
Social bullying, sometimes referred to as relational bullying, involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. Social bullying includes:
- Leaving someone out on purpose
- Telling other children not to be friends with someone
- Spreading rumors about someone
- Embarrassing someone in public
Physical bullying involves hurting a person’s body or possessions. Physical bullying includes:
- Taking or breaking someone’s things
- Making mean or rude hand gestures
- It will also help to know the warning signs
Signs that your child is being bullied:
- Not going to the bathroom at school. A lot of bullies attack in the bathroom, away from cameras and adults. Avoiding unsupervised activities and areas.
- Getting upset after a phone call, text or email.
- Losing friends they previously had.
- Being more isolated and skipping activities that they used to enjoy. Spending more time alone in their rooms.
- Making negative statements about themselves and engaging in negative self-talk.
- Unexplained injuries/bruising
- Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
- Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
- Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
- Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
- Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
- Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem
- Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves or talking about suicide
Do any of these situations sound familiar? Now that we have a better understanding of the term bullying and the warning signs we might see, how do we intervene?
1. Listen to what your child has to say: If your child tells you about being bullied, listen calmly and offer comfort and support. Kids are often reluctant to tell adults about bullying because they feel embarrassed and ashamed that it’s happening, or worry that their parents will be disappointed, upset, angry, or reactive. Sometimes kids feel like it’s their own fault, that if they looked or acted differently it wouldn’t be happening. Sometimes they’re scared that if the bully finds out that they told, it will get worse. Others are worried that their parents won’t believe them or do anything about it. Or kids worry that their parents will urge them to fight back when they’re scared to.
Being a good listener is an important piece of your role when your child is being bullied. One of the best questions you can ask your child is, “What can I do to be helpful?” When your child tells you what’s going on at school, as much as it hurts to listen, be open and able to hear what he has to say. Try to be supportive but neutral when he’s talking.
The other side of listening is not blaming your child. Don’t put the responsibility for the bullying on him or try to find a reason for it; there is no good reason or excuse for what’s happening. If your child is being bullied, he is the victim, so trying to find a reason for why he’s “bringing it on himself” really isn’t helpful. Never blame your child because it makes him anxious and reduces what he’s going to tell you. Your goal is that he continues to communicate what’s going on.
Don’t forget to recognize your child for doing the right thing by talking to you about it. Remind your child that he or she isn’t alone — a lot of people get bullied at some point. Emphasize that it’s the bully who is behaving badly — not your child. Reassure your child that you will figure out what to do about it together.
2. Don’t retaliate against the bully or his family: As tempting as it might be to take matters into your own hands and retaliate against the bully or his family, don’t do it. No one wants to see their child in pain and your anger is understandable. However, this is where you have to set some examples for your child on how to problem solve.
3. Coach your child on how to react: Bullies tend to pick on people who they can get a reaction from; they choose kids who get upset and who take the teasing to heart. They also look for kids who won’t stand up for themselves, or who they can overpower. It’s important to teach your child how to react. Coach on how to avoid the bullies at school and role play not reacting to them.
4. Find a teacher or administrator at your child’s school who will help: Let someone at school (the principal, school nurse, or a counselor or teacher) know about the situation. They are often in a position to monitor and take steps to prevent further problems. Remember, it is the school’s responsibility to stop bullying. The counselors at school will be a huge asset here. They can provide a safe place to go when being picked on. Tell your child to take the initiative and go talk to them when they need it, this will give them a sense of control over the situation.
It’s also important to make sure your child keeps talking—whether it’s with you, a guidance counselor or a trusted teacher, it’s important that he keeps communicating about what’s going on.
5. Take your child’s side: Let your child know that you are there for them. You support them, love them and recognize when they are implementing the skills taught to them. Make sure to let your child know that you’re on his side; he needs to understand that you don’t blame him and that you will support him.
6. Get support for yourself: Be sure to talk to your spouse or to supportive family or friends. This situation can really bring out emotions from parents. No one likes to see your child hurt and hearing these things can certainly make a parent feel helpless. It’s important if you are part of a couple to talk about what to say to your child so you are on the same page.
7. Teach your child to name what’s happening: For younger kids, it’s important to be able to name what’s happening as “bullying.” For a child who’s feeling picked on, it’s empowering to be able to really name it. They’re teaching a lot about bullying prevention in school these days and “bully” is such a negative word that it’s good for your child to be able to attach it to the behavior. This is truly empowering for many children and can work with older kids, as well.
8. Find something your child is really good at doing: Help your child feel good about himself by finding something he can do well. Choose some activities he’s good at and reinforce it verbally. Dealing with bullying can erode a child’s confidence. To help restore it, encourage your kids to spend time with friends who have a positive influence. Participation in clubs, sports, or other enjoyable activities builds strength and friendships.
Remember, every time he succeeds, it helps him develop better self–esteem; that feeling is the opposite of how the bullies make him feel. Bullying is not something your child is going to get over immediately—or simply because he wants it to be over. It can be long a process.
Advice for Kids
It’s so important for kids to understand that while they can’t stop people from saying bad things, they have some control over how they responded to it. Here are some other practical strategies to discuss with kids that can help improve the situation and make them feel better:
→Avoid the bully and use the buddy system. Use a different bathroom if a bully is nearby and don’t go to your locker when there is nobody around. Make sure you have someone with you so that you’re not alone with the bully. Buddy up with a friend on the bus, in the hallways, or at recess — wherever the bully is. Offer to do the same for a friend.
→Hold the anger. It’s natural to get upset by the bully, but that’s what bullies thrive on. It makes them feel more powerful. Practice not reacting by crying or looking red or upset. It takes a lot of practice, but it’s a useful skill for keeping off of a bully’s radar. Sometimes kids find it useful to practice “cool down” strategies such as counting to 10, writing down their angry words, taking deep breaths, or walking away. Sometimes the best thing to do is to teach kids to wear a “poker face” until they are clear of any danger (smiling or laughing may provoke the bully).
→Act brave, walk away, and ignore the bully. Firmly and clearly tell the bully to stop, then walk away. Practice ways to ignore the hurtful remarks, like acting uninterested or texting someone on your cell phone. By ignoring the bully, you’re showing that you don’t care. Eventually, the bully will probably get bored with trying to bother you.