What to do when your child is being bullied
This is the second article in a series on bullying, provided by the Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO WHEN THEIR CHILD IS BEING BULLIED?
Plus, Tips To Help Kids Heal And Move On
By: David Kraybill, Executive Director, Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation
It’s a helpless feeling when you know your child is hurting and you’re not sure how to fix the problem or even where to begin. What would you do if you discover your child is being bullied? Your initial inclination might be to stop the bullying, but that may actually do more harm than good. But, there are things that can be done to begin to alleviate the situation and work toward a resolution.
What You Should Not Do
Once you’ve determined your child is being bullied, you may think it’s a good idea to call and talk to the bully’s parents. This can be detrimental, especially if the child you think is the culprit is not the right child—this can be especially true with cyberbullying. Also, if the parent does take action and punish his or her child, the child may turn around and make even more trouble for your child.
Trying to mediate a bullying situation yourself by bringing together your child and the bully to “work it out” is not a good idea either. It may further traumatize your child and send the wrong message to both parties. Remember, bullying is a form of victimization; it’s not a conflict. Other things that parents should not do include:
• Asking your child to solve the bullying problem. The child will likely suffer further. This is not
something that will go away on its own and requires adult intervention.
• Advising your child to fight back—this may violate a school conduct code and your child may be
seriously injured. Plus, answering violence with more violence only perpetuates the problem.
• Blaming your child. It’s likely she has done nothing to provoke the bullying. However, have an honest
look at your child’s social skills and behaviors. If your child is hyperactive, impulsive or overly
talkative, the bully may be reacting out of annoyance. This doesn’t make the bullying right, but
it may offer an explanation. If your child easily irritates people, seek help from a counselor so that your
child can better learn the informal social rules of his or her peer group.
• Allowing or encouraging your child to respond to threatening messages or texts—this can backfire on
your child. Don’t respond, and start to save all evidence.
What You Should Do
There are three major steps parents should take when they find out their child is being bullied or cyberbullied.
Step One – Gather Information
Many kids are embarrassed to say they have been bullied—you may have only one chance to step in—so listen carefully and learn as much as you can. It’s important to take the bullying seriously. You also should emphasize with your child that bullying is wrong, not his fault and praise him for telling you about it. As you’re talking, gather all the information on what has been happening—where, when, how, who. Then create a written record and have your child start to keep a journal of all instances. If the bullying is or includes cyberbulling, keep all texts and emails, and print out and SAVE all evidence. Don’t wait until your list gets longer or your child’s journal fills up—it’s important to address the situation as soon as you are aware of it, but continue keeping track of the situation. Be sure to keep the lines of communication open with your child.
Step Two – Contact the School
If the bullying is occurring at school make the school aware of the situation. You should also ask to see the school’s bullying policy. The school should investigate your concerns and inform you of the outcome. Give them a reasonable amount of time to investigate both sides of the story—however, it should not take more than a week. Do not expect that you will be part of any meeting with the children involved or your child. This could be embarrassing and intimidating for your child. If the bullying continues and the school is not doing anything else, you should contact school administrators or the superintendent for help. Don’t give up. Remain persistent and ask that you are kept informed at all times.
If the bullying does not occur at school, it is still a good idea to alert your child’s teacher or principal so they are aware of the situation and can watch for any unacceptable behaviors.
Step Three – Educate Your Child
While the bully situation is being addressed, take time to educate your child about how to act if a bullying episode occurs. First, she should just avoid the bully as best she can. If she must see the bully, your child should put on a poker face and act as though the bully’s behavior does not bother her and walk away as soon as possible. You can also teach your child safety strategies, like seeking help from an adult if she feels threatened. Above all else, make sure your child has a safe and loving home environment where she can take shelter and express her feelings in a non-judgmental way.
After your child has been the victim of bullying and it has come to an end, there are ways to help your child become more resilient to bullying and maybe prevent further incidents. Suggest and facilitate activities for him to get involved in, like music, sports or art outside the school environment—a fresh start with some new peers can build confidence. Encourage him to make contact with the friendlier students—his or her teacher may be able to suggest such students. You can also role-play how your child should react if someone starts to bully him again. It might seem awkward at first, but it will give your child practice in being assertive and brave, but not aggressive. He needs to feel he can retain power in a bullying situation.
Unfortunately, the effects of bullying can last a lifetime if left unaddressed. Behaviors, attitudes and hurts can manifest over time and become ways that children use to define themselves as they grow into adulthood. Long-term effects can include decreased self-esteem, long-term depression, anxiety, loneliness, withdrawal, suicidal ideation, and actually becoming an adult bully at home or in the workplace, or becoming a child- and/or spouse-abuser.
So remember, the most important thing to remember is do not keep quiet about bullying incidents. Hold the bully accountable for his or her actions, because no child should have to suffer in silence and hope it goes away—it won’t.
About the Foundation The Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation’s mission is to enhance the health and wellness of area residents, providing education, funding and programs that motivate people to adopt healthy lifestyles. Visit www.pottstownfoundation.org for more information about the Foundation. Discover Pottstown area’s new online community at www.missionhealthyliving.org to learn and share great information on how to lead a healthier life!