You know that first minute when you’re looking at your newborn bleary eyed and vow that nobody will dare mess with your child, because then they’ll have to mess with you?
Then you send your daughter to school. With strangers. Adults and children you don’t know, and you hope and pray they’ll take care of your child like the treasure he is.
One day, your little one comes home with a teary face. “Someone hurt me.”
Like my daughter did. “Mommy, Gina hit me.”
According to a national survey commissioned by Care.com, bullying and cyberbullying have eclipsed kidnapping as parents’ greatest fear.
Is there any wonder why? Just take a look at some of the stats. 1 in 4 children are bullied each month in the USA. Every 7 minutes a child is bullied. 160,000 kids miss school each day from fear of bullying. 1 in 10 children drops out of school due to bullying. Nearly one in three parents of children ages 12-17 agree that bullying is a more serious concern than other dangers, including domestic terrorism, car accidents, and suicide.
The only way we can change this is if we get involved. If you, and I and all of us take action, we can stop the bullying.
“I’m not in Congress, I don’t set school policy. Heck, I’m not even a teacher. I’m a worried parent who wants my child to grow up safe and strong. How do we do that?” you ask?
Here’s what to focus on:
1. Understand What Exactly is Bullying
Bullying is a form of emotional or physical abuse that has three defining characteristics:
- Deliberate – a bully’s intention is to hurt someone
- Repeated – the behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time
- Power Imbalanced – a bully chooses victims he or she perceives as vulnerable
These three aspects must be included for a behavior to be labeled bullying.
There are many behaviors that look like bullying but require different approaches. It is important to determine whether the situation is bullying or something else. State law and school policy may have additional guidelines for defining bullying behavior.
In fact, the number of reports of Kentucky public school student bullying, harassing, or threatening others more than tripled from 2012 to 2015 due to changed criteria. So all that fine print really can make a difference.
Bullying occurs in many different forms, with varying levels of severity. It may involve:
- Physical Bullying – poking, pushing, hitting, kicking, beating up
- Verbal Bullying – yelling, taunting, name-calling, insulting, threatening to harm
- Relational Bullying – excluding, spreading rumors, getting others to hurt someone
- Cyberbullying – Sending hurtful messages or images by Internet or cell phone
Bullying can also be any combination of these. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.
2. Recognize Signs of Bullying
Children have many reasons for not telling adults about bullying situations.
- They are ashamed of being bullied.
- They are afraid of retaliation.
- They don’t think anyone can or will help.
- They have bought into the lie that being bullied is part of growing up.
- Children who are also bullied by adult may believe that they are permitted to be bullied.
- They have learned that “ratting” is not cool.
Although children do not tell us outright, they do give us clues.
- Is reluctant or refuses to go to school
- Clams up when you try to discuss school
- Demands some sort of change in a long-standing routine, like riding the bus to school or going to the park on Saturdays
- Does not want to participate in after-school activities or play with old friends
- Seems hungrier than usual after school – it might be a sign that someone is stealing his lunch money or that he is unwilling to brave the cafeteria at lunchtime
- Shows signs of physical distress such as headaches, stomach-aches, or nausea
- Goes to the nurse in order to avoid going to class
- Performance in school (grades, homework, attendance) suddenly declines
- Acts sullen, angry, and frequently wants to be left alone
- Uncharacteristically uses bad language
- Shows marked behavior change after computer time or a phone call
- Starts asking for more lunch or transportation money without a clear explanation of why it is needed
- Has unexplained bruises or injuries
What if your child is the bully? Although you don’t want to see your child acting mean, it is important to know the signs that your child may be bullying:
- Lack of empathy
- Needs to be in control
- Underdeveloped social and interpersonal skills
- Seems to derive pleasure from pain and suffering of others
- Attacks before others can attack
- Has been bullied by peer, sibling, or parent
- Is exclusive – refuses to include certain kids in play or study
- Persists in certain unpleasant behavior even after you have told him/her to stop
- Is very concerned with being and staying popular
- Seems intolerant of and/or shows contempt for children who are “different” or “weird”
- Frequently teases or taunts other children
- Constantly plays extremely aggressive videogames
- Hurts animals
- Observes you excluding, gossiping about, or otherwise hurting others: As human beings, we occasionally exhibit some bullying behaviors. It’s only natural and it doesn’t mean we’re bad people. But think about your own behavior and ask – do your kids also show these traits?
3. Talk About Bullying
It’s not only you who needs to know about bullying, this is something you want your child to know about before s/he ever has to confront it.
How can you start the conversation? Check out these resources, and decide which one would be best to explore with your child.
- Mcgruff.org provides resources for adults and children looking to stop bullying and educate others about bullying issues.
- PACER Kids Against Bullying is an educational site designed for elementary school students to learn about bullying prevention, engage in activities, and be inspired to take action.
- Stopbullying.gov offers information, videos and games for children.
- An American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong (DVD)
- PACER Teens Against Bullying is created by and for teens. Find ways to address bullying, takeaction, and be heard.
- The “Fat News Lady” News Story
- The Everything Parent’s Guide to Dealing with Bullies by Deborah Carpenter
- Workplace bullying. Bullying doesn’t only happen to kids. Take a stand at work.
- PACER parenting resources
4. Know Your Child’s Rights
Children can be picked on for so many different reasons. Here are some that are common:
- Ethnic group
Do you know the laws of your state?
All states have laws that protect bullying, harassment, and intimidation in school. With a clear definitions, schools must enforce uniform standards of conduct. When a school finds out that harassment may have occurred, staff must investigate the incident(s) promptly and respond appropriately. With state law, schools cannot turn a blind eye to bullying.
Does your child have a disability, food allergy, or other special health need? Know his rights. Make sure his IEP includes a plan to protect your child from bullying. Keep an eye out for signs that your child is being bullied-by children, or even unfortunately by staff. Bullying behavior may cross the line to become “disability harassment,” which is prohibited under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
5. Model Positive Social Behavior
The most effective way to keep children from being bullied, and from becoming bullies, is to make sure they grow up in loving relationships. Robert Fulgham succinctly put it, “Don’t worry that your children never listen to you. Worry that they are always watching you.”
Children learn both sides of every relationship, and they can act either one. Model positive parenting. If your discipline methods use power over your child, he will learn to use power over others, or to let others use power over him.
6. Teach Your Child Social Skills
Kids need to know they can get their needs met while being respectful of other people. Give him words to stick up for himself early on:
“I want a turn now.”
“Hey, I don’t like this.”
Role play with your child how to join a game at the playground, introduce themselves to another child at a party, or initiate a play date/sleepover. Kids who are successful in joining groups of kids usually observe first, and find a way to fit into the group, rather than just barging in. Make games out of social skills and practice at home. Encourage your child to join groups and clubs that s/he enjoys.
Other ways to raise a friendly child?
- Install a healthy self esteem.
- Coach your child on positive self talk.
- Teach your children to learn from mistakes.
- Provide specific praise.
- Talk about friendship skills.
7. The Bystander: Teach Kids to Prevent Bullying When They See It
Bullying expert Michele Borba says that when bystanders — kids who are nearby — intervene correctly, studies find they can cut bullying more than half the time and within 10 seconds.
Your child will witness bullying at some point. Teach them what to do.
Partner with the victim and remove her from danger: Go stand with the victim physically, turn the victim away from the bully and walk her off in the other direction — towards adult help. Say “You look upset” or “I’ve been looking for you” or “The teacher sent me to find you.”
Get help: Bullies love an audience. Get the other kids on your side by waving them over to you, yelling, “We need your help.” Confront the bully: “You’re being mean.” Then walk away: “C’mon, let’s go!”
And of course, if you’re at all worried about safety, dial 911 or shout for a teacher.
8. Coach Your Child to Handle Teasing and Bullying
Research shows that bullies begin with verbal harassment. How the “victim” responds to the first verbal aggression determines whether the bully continues to target this particular child.
- Roleplay with your child is a great way to prepare them to stand up to a bully. Knowing your child well can help you decide how to best do this. Point out to your child that the bully wants to provoke a response that makes him feel powerful, so showing emotion and fighting back are exactly what the bully feeds off. Explain that he can always control his own response. How s/he responds may exaggerate the situation or defuse it. Practice until your child is confident in handling difficult situations.
- The best strategy is always to respond evenly and firmly, maintaining the dignity of all children involved. Prepare your child with simple phrases that are direct and not antagonistic: “You know, I’m just going to ignore that comment.” “Don’t do that.” “No.” “Well, that’s what you think.” Then walk away.
- Teach your child to act brave, look the bully in the eye, and say one of these things. Practice until your child has a strong, self-assured tone.
- Assert by standing tall and using a strong voice. “Stop making fun of me. It’s mean.”
- Agree with the teaser. Consider helping your child create a statement agreeing with her teaser. Teaser: “Hey, four eyes.” Child: *Shrugs* “Yep, my eyesight is poor.”
- Ignore it. Bullies love it when their teasing upsets their victims, so help your child find a way to not let his tormentor get to him. Children offer these kid-tested ways to ignore teasers: “Pretend they’re invisible,” “Walk away without looking at them,” “Quickly look at something else and laugh,” and “Look completely uninterested.”
If your child is being bullied:
- Assure the child that you believe them and that they are not alone with this problem.
- Affirm that this is not their fault.
- Establish that there are things that you can doand develop a plan.
- Report the bullying to school personnel.
Take action when your child says bullied. Work as a team. Assess immediate safety, demand action, get involved, and stay on top of it.
9. When Your Child is the Bully
Nobody sets out to be the parent of a mean kid. But what do you do when you get a phone call that your child bullied? Rosalind Wiseman , author of Queen Bees and Wannabees urges parents to understand:
Roles change. Today the bullied. Tomorrow, the bully. Children are not fixed in their roles. Depending on the situation, children can just as easily be the bully as they can the target.
They have a private life. Parents must assume and accept that they won’t know everything that goes on with their child.
Kids have 2 sides. Children will act differently at home than they will at school. Your 7th grade son who kisses you goodnight before grabbing his stuffed animal will never show that side of himself to his friends.
You’re still a good parent. There are many reasons why parents aren’t aware of their child’s inappropriate behavior, and it’s not because the parent is irresponsible.
What to do if your child is the bully?
- Talk to your child about what happened.
- Show your child what they have done is wrong.
- Give your child ownership of the problem. No “if only”s, blame shifting or excuses.
- Help your child find a way of solving the problem that he created.
- Leave his dignity intact.
- Create opportunities to do good.
- Nurture empathy.
- Teach friendship skills.
- Engage in entertaining, energizing and constructive activities.
- Closely monitor technology. Children regularly exposed to media violence are apt to become desensitized to real life violence.
- Watch out for signs that you may be unknowingly encouraging bullying.
10. Get Involved
- Talk to your child’s school. Implement educational programs. Do they have an anti-bullying curriculum? Here are some you can suggest:
- Increase public awareness. Hold a meeting about bullying. Invite parents, teachers, school personnel and the media. Not a speaker? Invite an author of a bullying book or an educator to talk.
- Ensure your child’s school has consistent school rules and policies about bullying that are implemented and followed through.
- Is there supervision in high risk areas? Some ideas to offer:
- Parent volunteers
- Older peer leaders
- Student council
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
Don’t be vague about bullying. Clarify what constitutes bullying. Pick one activity to bully proof your child today.
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Pick one way you will take action, in your child’s school, in the community or online. How will you prevent a bullying incident?