Bullying is never justified and can have devastating and far-reaching consequences for kids and their families. All parents fear the sick feeling that comes with knowing your child is being hurt in this way, but should never turn a blind eye or succumb to helplessness or silence. You can armor your child against bullies if you keep your eyes open to the signs, remain calm and respond appropriately.
Warning Signs – Kids, no matter their age, often keep quiet about being bullied because they are afraid that parental involvement will exacerbate the problem. While changes in behavior can signal many issues, parents should be on the lookout for:
- Missing or destroyed personal items, such as smart phones, lunch money or gym clothes
- Abruptly ended friendships
- Refusal to attend social functions, such as birthday parties at or outside of school
- Slipping grades
- Physical ailments that might be anxiety related, such as head or stomach aches
- Withdrawn, sullen behavior or bursts of anger
- Feelings of upset or exhibiting fear upon returning home from school or other social situations, or after spending time on social media websites or the phone
- Trouble eating, sleeping or enjoying favorite pastimes
- Signs of physical trauma or abuse
Talk To Your Child – You know your child better than anyone. Keeping in mind that they may try to hide what they’re going through from you, gently try to engage them in age-appropriate conversation about the situation, taking these initial steps.
- Ask questions, making sure to let them know that bullying is never acceptable, nor is it ever brought on or deserved by the person being hurt in this way.
- Find out as much as you can about the type of bullying taking place, where it is happening and how your child responds to the situation. Explain that there are many types of bullying and that all bullying is an expression of aggression. Kinds of bullying can include physical assault, verbal abuse such as teasing, destruction or theft of property, emotional and social manipulation such as spreading rumors, gossiping and cyber-bullying via electronic mediums.
- If your child is being cyber-bullied, ask for access to their social media platforms and texting history so you can further assess the situation and document it if necessary.
- Let your child know you are on their side and they don’t have to fight this alone.
Create a Response Strategy – Giving your child coping tools and supporting them to maintain a high level of self-esteem will help to bolster them up and give them strength.
- Empower your child not to engage with the bully as retaliation usually makes matters worse and can even result in your own child being blamed or suspended from school. If your child is being goaded into fighting, let them know that walking away and ignoring the bully is a better solution, even if it feels embarrassing at the time.
- Instruct your child to find a teacher or other authority figure to intervene, particularly if their safety is at risk.
- Recommend your child stay close to friends or hang out in a friendly group if they are fearful.
- Encourage your child to continue to do the things important to them and also explore new interests where they can make new friends. Creating multiple friendship streams from differing origins, such as clubs or camps, can help your child feel accepted and help them to more comfortably ignore the situation.
- Cyber-bullying can feel particularly insidious, as it can creep into the home and garner lots of attention from ever-expanding numbers of people. If your child is being cyber-bullied, encourage them not to engage or respond to the bully and to block them electronically wherever possible.
Ending the Situation – The age of your child may affect the types of steps you deem appropriate, but bullying should have serious consequences for the bully, no matter what the ages are of those involved.
- Keep a written record of the details, including the places, dates and names of those involved. Include the names of onlookers who either did nothing, contributed to the situation or attempted to stop it.
- Gather pertinent electronic evidence, such as screenshots, emails, texts and videos.
- Inform the school and ask for its assistance, such as mediating a meeting between the families involved, or speaking to the bully and their family alone. Ask for a copy of the school’s position statement on bullying and make sure that appropriate consequences are administered.
- In the case of cyber-bullying or physical bullying, involve the police and file a formal complaint. Cyber-bullying should also be reported to the websites where the incidents are occurring as well as to the cellphone service providers involved.
- Keep in mind that just because it’s over now, it may not stay over. Maintain as high a level of communication and connection with your child as possible. Try to monitor their online use if you can and ask their teacher or guidance counselor to keep an ongoing eye out for them at school and to stay in touch with you should a new situation arise.
Bullying won’t last forever, but it can seem like it will to a kid going through it. Helping your child maintain a positive sense of self and strong circle of support will keep them feeling safer, stronger and better protected than they would without it, despite what they are going through now.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.