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How can I help my son with bullying at school?

My Child is Being Bullied at School

Child affected by bullying

By Alicia DiGiulio, M.A., MSEd. Therapist

There are many solutions to bullying, and every solution will be different based on a child’s unique circumstances. Once a parent identifies that bullying has taken place, there are steps that can effectively manage the situation for the child and (hopefully) lead to a positive resolution.  Children bully other children for ridiculous and often cruel reasons; some children bully others for no reason at all. The important message is to stop the bullying early and prevent it from continuing.  If bullying is allowed to continue, then it will only get worse and may spread to other children. (source)

Bullying in schools has become a national epidemic. A study published in the Journal of School Health found that 19 percent of U.S. elementary students are bullied. Each day more than 160,000 kids stay home from school because they fear being bullied, according to a survey by the National Education Association. (source)  

10 Steps to Help Your Child Deal with Bullying

You may be wondering what some specific action steps are you can take to help your child through this difficult time.  Listed below are suggestions that are intended to guide you along the way.  

Stay calm & listen to your child

If you discover that your child has been the victim of bullying, the most important thing to remember as a parent is to stay calm. Being a good listener is an equally important aspect of your role as a parent. One of the best questions you can ask your child is, “What can I do to be helpful?” When your child tells you what is going on at school, as much as it hurts to listen, be open and willing to hear what he has to say. Try to be supportive but neutral when he is talking. When you react too strongly to what your child is saying, he might stop talking because he is afraid he is going to upset you. Similarly, do not blame your child and do not 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 is happening! If your child is being bullied, then he is the victim. Your goal is that he continues to communicate to you what is going on.  Let him know right away that the bullying situation will be addressed and that he will be protected. Make certain you work with your child and ask him how he wants to respond to the bullying and how he would like to handle the situation. Retaliation from the bully is a possibility, and you need to include that variable into your plan. Discuss a few options with your child to help address this issue.

Document everything

Every time your child comes home with a story, write down who, what, when, where and how.  You may need these details when talking to school administrators, etc.

Teach your child to name what is happening

For younger kids, it is important to be able to name what is happening as “bullying.” For a child who is feeling picked on, it can be empowering to be able to name the harmful words and actions as bullying. Do not let anyone tell you it is just ‘kids being kids’. Let your child know that bullying is not acceptable, and he should not accept it. Bullying is abnormal behavior.

Coach your child on how to react

Bullies tend to pick on people who they can get a reaction from, and they select kids who get upset and who take the teasing to heart. Bullies also look for kids who will not stand up for themselves. It is important to teach your child how to react. Talk to your child about how to avoid bullies at school and who to go to if your child feels unsafe.

Shut down social media if necessary

If the bullying includes social media, shut down all social media accounts immediately. Keep a close eye on your child’s phone history: review all texts, emails, social media exchanges…everything! This is critical. Minimize whom your child interacts with electronically, and ensure there is no online or electronic bullying.

Don’t retaliate against the bully or his family

Do not take matters into your own hands and retaliate against the bully or his family. This is where a parent can set the example for their child on how to problem solve. It is difficult to hear that your child is being threatened, and the immediate reaction is to want to stop the hurting.  Remember that retaliating will not help your child solve the problem or feel better about himself. Instead, think about what you can do to help your child handle what he is facing.

Get support

Bullying can really bring out a variety of emotions from parents.  Reach out to others for support:  a family member, a friend, another parent from the school—anyone who can help you help your child. Support from others will help you feel like you are not alone.

Be certain school is as safe as possible

Make certain your child has protection at school to the best of your ability. Work with the school to have adults supervising open areas such as hallways, locker rooms, gym class, the bus, and other open and vulnerable situations.

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 is good at and reinforces it verbally. Remember that every time your child succeeds, it helps him develop better self–esteem and that feeling is the opposite of how the bully/bullies make him feel.

What to do in serious cases of bullying (3+ instances)

Call the school, schedule a meeting, and help to create a specifically tailored strategy for your child. Do not let the school implement action until you have reviewed the plan with your child, and discussed the option with the specific school staff members who will be involved.  Do not allow your school to perform peer-to-peer conflict resolution where the victim and the bully meet in the same room to discuss the situation and problem-solve. This re-victimizes the victim. The bully learns nothing and simply says what the adult wants to hear so he can get back to being a bully as quickly as possible. (source)

Key requirements for such a plan should include:

  • You, as the parent of the victim, must take an active role in the solution.
  • The bully’s parents must be called and notified.
  • The bully must have a consequence or punishment.
  • The bully and his family must sign an agreement to cease and desist all bullying, and to stop any further discussion regarding your child in any manner, to anybody, at any time.
  • The bully must be notified that many acts of bullying are considered crimes after a second offense. Let the bully know how your state’s anti-bullying law will affect him should the bullying continue.
  • The plan must have a specific timeline that the school is accountable for while correcting the problem.
  • Your child needs to have go-to adults at school to help him.

(source)

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. The lesson is often that while your child cannot stop people from saying bad things or behaving in a certain way, your child has some control over how he responds to it.

If your child is being bullied, Crosswinds can help. Our in-home family counselors can help you and your child develop techniques to deal with bullying and how to come to a peaceful and productive resolution.

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