Your child comes home complaining that he or she has been bullied in school. Understandably, you feel outraged, and perhaps a little helpless too.
What should you do next? Alert the teacher (along with the discipline master and principal), make contact with the other child’s parents, or train your child to handle the situation alone?
Use these tips to guide the way as you search for the best solution for your child.
1. Assess The Situation
First, distinguish between rude, mean, and bullying behaviour, says US anti-bullying educator Signe Whitson. By her definition, rude behaviour is any hurtful behaviour that occurs spontaneously due to poor manners or thoughtlessness, such as queue jumping. Mean behaviour, on the other hand, is intentionally hurtful, such as insults about one’s intelligence or appearance.
Bullying behaviour is the most serious of all, and there are three parts to it: the intention to harm, malicious acts carried out repeatedly, and an imbalance of power between the bully and the victim.
Bullying can take the form of repeated physical acts such as hitting, verbal abuse, or the most subtle of all, relational aggression, such as ostracism or gossiping. Cyberbullying, or the use of technology to inflict hurt, has also gained attention in recent years. None of these behaviours should be ignored.
Once you have identified the form of harassment that your child is being subjected to, weigh your options and choose the most appropriate response based on the frequency and severity of the harassment, and the immediate (physical and emotional) safety of your child.
On the lighter end, where the harassment involves rude or mean behaviours, you could role play different scenarios to equip your child with an action plan for handling future situations. Alternatively, matters could be settled privately with the other child’s parents if you have access to their contact information, and if they are receptive to your feedback.
If you have no means of contacting the other parents, or feel the teacher or principal should be made aware of your child’s predicament, contact the school at once and have them take over. In cases of severe bullying—and without a satisfactory disciplinary response from the school—some parents have resorted to transferring their child to another school.
If, at any time, you feel a crime has been committed against your child, do not hesitate to seek police action.
2. Be Willing To Collaborate
If you intend to approach another parent about their child’s behaviour, tread with caution. Think carefully about the words you use and their intended outcome. Remember: putting another parent on the defensive will not help your cause.
In the best case scenario, the other parent will see your side of the story, respond immediately, be suitably aggrieved (on your child’s behalf) and apologetic, and discipline their child in a manner they see fit.
If both parties are open, having the bully play together with your child in a supervised situation (e.g. walking home after school together, or a playdate at your home) may help them to get to know each other on an equal footing. If a good time is had by all, the bully may change his or her behaviour towards your child.
But, be prepared that your request to discuss the bullying may be ignored, or worse, that you may have a hostile parent to deal with. If you find these possibilities stressful, it may be wiser to turn the matter over to the school.
3. Don’t Blame The Victim
If you know that your child is dealing with a bully at school, check in with him or her daily, or as often as your child is willing to talk to you.
For younger children, you could ask them to rate their day (e.g. out of five stars) to find out how they’re feeling, generally. If they have had a less-than-stellar day, you can proceed to ask if any specific incident happened to make them feel bad.
While discussing bullying incidents, it is natural to want to find out more details. On occasion, parents may be surprised or even disappointed by their children’s inability to fend off a bully. Or they may feel frustrated as a result of their own childhood (or adulthood) experiences, where they too have been unable to assert themselves effectively.
In such instances, parents should guard their own feelings, and be sensitive to their children’s emotions. You won’t help your children’s confidence or self-esteem by interrogating and belittling them at this vulnerable moment in their lives.
4. Empower Your Child With A Plan
Children shouldn’t be expected to handle uncomfortable situations by relying solely on their instincts. Through discussions and role playing, we can help children to formulate simple responses against aggressive behaviour, such as “If you do this again, I’ll tell the teacher.”
Some children may be reluctant to speak up, but they may be open to trying, if you dangle the prospect of a treat or a reward for overcoming this personal hurdle.
In many instances, being able to say a loud and firm “No!” can deter bullying behaviour. Another useful assertiveness technique is known as the “broken record,” where a sentence such as “No, you can’t have this” is repeated over and over again to combat against badgering.
Some parents sign their children up for self-defence or martial arts classes to bolster their confidence—getting your children to be more involved in sports could have a positive effect as well.
However, in discussing responses to bullying with your children, be careful not to confuse assertiveness with aggression—it is important to distinguish between the two. Aggressive individuals (i.e. bullies) feel a sense of power over others, while assertive individuals treat others as equals, with respect. Assertive individuals speak firmly and frankly when the situation warrants it, but without the intention to intimidate or hurt.
5. Model Healthy Relationships At Home
In order for children to call out bullying behaviour, they have to recognise it—and this all depends on the relationships that they have been exposed to at home.
If name-calling, shouting, spanking, and other forms of aggression are the norm in your interactions with your children, they will be inclined to let others treat them in the same way. Observe the interactions that occur on the home front, and rally family members to make a concerted effort to treat one another with kindness and respect at all times.