August 29, 2017
If your child hasn’t already gone back to school, they will be roaming the halls again very shortly. While this can be an exciting time, it’s often challenging, too.
While it’s true that some conflict between children is normal, don’t dismiss your child’s disagreements with classmates, or complaints about other students’ behavior. Pay attention to what your child tells you, and be on the lookout for patterns or repeated issues the same kids.
Just consider these alarming facts. According to DoSomething.org, more than 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year. 160,000 teens skip school because of bullying, and over 67 percent of all students feel their school doesn’t do enough to protect them.
Dealing with bullying is a tricky parenting challenge, and there are few easy answers, but it helps to be prepared. Here are seven ways to help your kids with back-to-school bullies.
Strength in Numbers
If your child walks to school or stays after school for extracurricular activities, do your best to make sure he or she has a safe way to get home. Bullies are more likely to pick on someone who is alone. Reach out to other neighbors and parents. Try to find children who walk a similar route or take the same bus home. Encourage a buddy system and teach your child how to contact an adult in case of an emergency.
If your child tells you about an incident that doesn’t sound right, trust your gut and act quickly. Talk to your child’s bus driver, teacher, or principal, depending on where the problem seems to be occurring, and find out all you can. Talk to other parents about what they have observed. The worst-case scenario is that you misinterpret something your child reported, and that you over-react and embarrass yourself a little. If you ignore the issue, you may regret it for the rest of your life.
Statistics show that one in four teachers see nothing wrong with bullying, and intervene just 4 percent of the time. Your child needs you to be an advocate so that problems are addressed as soon as they arise.
Don’t Back Down
You have an obligation to protect your child at all times, even when they are at school. If you know (or even just suspect) that something is going on and your child is feeling threatened, marginalized, or intimidated, it’s important to speak up.
It’s possible that your concerns will be taken seriously but it’s also possible that they will be downplayed or disregarded entirely. Parents who have lost their child to suicide as a result of bullying often say that they wish they had done more. Learn from their regrets, and don’t back down. If your child’s teacher ignores the problem, for example, go to the principal. And if the principal doesn’t do anything, reach out to the school board.
Stick to Facts
It’s normal to get upset when you learn your child has been victimized. Harness those feelings of outrage but do your best to keep your cool. You don’t want to escalate the situation and you also want to be taken seriously.
You can begin by asking for a meeting with your child’s teacher, principal, or guidance counselor. Lay out the facts and follow-up with an email summarizing what was discussed. Having this record will be valuable if you need to go to a higher authority.
Watch for Signs of Bullying
Your child may not tell you if he or she is being bullied. Children often keep problems to themselves because they don’t want to be a snitch, or because they’re afraid that getting adults involved will just give their bully more ammunition. Some kids, especially teens, are ashamed of being bullied, and prefer to suffer in silence. Try to maintain good communication with your child, and have regular conversations about bullying and other unacceptable behavior. Encourage your child to tell you or another adult if he or she is being bullied, or observes another child being bullied. Find out more about the signs of bullying here.
When Your Child is the Bully
This one is tough. So tough, in fact, that you might try to avoid dealing with it entirely. What if your child has hurt someone emotionally, mentally, and/or physically? What should you do?
First, take a deep breath, listen to the accusations, and then calmly have a conversation with your child. If your child will confesses and seems genuinely sorry, make arrangements for your child to apologize to the victim and offer to cover any damages they may have caused. Take advantages of counseling resources at your child’s school, or consider other counseling resources.
If your child denies it, they could be telling the truth—or they could be lying. Find out if the school is willing to bring everyone together to talk about the problem. Watch how your child reacts and be honest with yourself. If it seems like a problem that’s too big to take on, ask if the school has counseling services available for students, or seek them outside of the school setting. Consider family counseling, too. Whatever happens, don’t minimize the problem, assume your child will grow out of this type of behavior, or blame your child’s victim. Get involved, be supportive, and hold your child accountable.
Set an Example
It’s essential to deal with bullying problems immediately in the short term. In the long run, the best thing you can do is set a good example. If you routinely behave angrily and aggressively, whether it’s at home, at work, or behind the wheel, you can expect your child to develop a similar approach to the world. At the same time, it’s important to encourage kids to stand up for themselves, and to develop and maintain healthy boundaries. If you want your child to develop the tools necessary for healthy relationships, try to create a family atmosphere that is supportive, open, and loving, and handle routine conflicts with maturely and mutual respect.