According to statistics one in five children admit to being bullied and bullying is not only isolated as a childhood problem but also affects adolescents and adults as well. Whether it is bullying on the playground, on social media or in the workplace; bullying occurs on an everyday basis and can create a lot of emotional scars later on in life. Historically, bullying had been viewed as “a childhood rite of passage” that “made kids tougher,” but the reality has always been that bullying can leave devastating and often long-term effects such as a loss of self-esteem, increased anxiety, and depression for those involved. As a parent, it can be heartbreaking to see or hear about your child being bullied. It is natural for parents to want to step in and stop the bullying immediately but many parents are uncertain how to effectively stop bullying. If you suspect that your child is being bullied, it is important to gather all the information from your child before you present it to the teachers and other parties involved.
Questions to ask your child if he/she is being bullied
Who does your child consider to be her good friends?
How long has the bullying been going on?
Where is the bullying happening? School? Bus? Social media?
Do any teachers or other school staff members know about it?
Is your child being targeted by one child or a group of children?
Is the aggression verbal or physical in nature?
Four initial steps to take if your child is being bullied
Assure your 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 can be done to stop this and develop a plan.
Report the bullying to school personnel.
Take action against bullying
Stop bullying when you see it: Adults who remain silent when bullying occurs are encouraging it and making it worse. Even if you witness bullying from other children it is important to immediately speak with that child’s parents. Remember that if you ignore it, your child will assume it is okay.
Avoid calling the bully’s parents: Your first instinct may be to call the bully’s parents but more than likely this could make the parents angry and defensive and may escalate the issue. If the teachers or principals decide to talk to the bully’s parents then that is their decision and is usually part of the school process.
Communicate with your child’s school: Set up a parent-teacher meeting and communicate what you have learned about what is happening to your child. This may also require involving the parent’s of the bully however it is important to have an adult discussion so your child can be protected at school. In many cases, teachers are unaware bullying is even taking place.
Listen and support children who speak up: Telling an adult about bullying is not easy for children. Many children are afraid to tell an adult because they are embarrassed or they are afraid the adult will ignore them or make the situation worse. If a child comes to you seeking assistance with bullying, spend time listening to them and provide affirmation and support before taking actions.
Tell your children to take action when they see bullying behavior. Tell them to speak out against the bully and inform a teacher if the behavior doesn’t stop. Bullying continues only when we allow it to. Many bullies are rarely confronted and as a result, they will continue with this behavior until someone addresses it.
Get informed about school policies and state and local laws: Each state has it’s own laws and policies regarding bullying and every school has adopted strict guidelines and consequences for bullying. Bullying can threaten a child’s physical and emotional safety and therefore it is important to take action if the bullying does not stop.
Seek out a mental health professional: If you feel your child is negatively impacted from being bullied to the extent they are exhibiting unhealthy behaviors and emotions, then it may be necessary to seek therapy in order to prevent worsening decline.
Resources for parents
The Everything Parent’s Guide to Dealing with Bullies by Deborah Carpenter
PACER parenting resources
Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a clinical content writer and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of mental health and addiction medicine. She is a family medicine physician and author, who also teaches and contributes to medicine board education. Her passion lies within educating the public on preventable diseases including mental health disorders and the stigma associated with them. She is also an outdoor activist and spends most of her free time empowering other women to get outside into the backcountry.