When you discover your child is being bullied, you may feel a variety of emotions, from anger to fear to sadness. These reactions and emotional responses are natural for parents who want their child to feel valued, protected and loved.
To become an effective advocate for your child, it is important to acknowledge your emotions and then focus on developing an action plan to help your child. Here are five steps parents can take if their child is experiencing bullying.
1. Talk with your child
When you first talk with your child about bullying, be prepared to listen without judgment, and provide a safe and supportive place where your child can work out his or her feelings. Children may not be ready to open up right away as they, too, are dealing with the emotional effects of bullying and may be feeling insecure, frightened, vulnerable, angry or sad.
It’s important to learn as much as possible about the situation, such as how long the behavior has been happening, who has been involved and what steps have been taken. Encourage your child to talk, and let them know they are not alone and you are there to help.
Make sure your child knows:
• It is not their fault. They are not to blame.
• They are not alone. You are here to help.
• It is the adults’ responsibility make the bullying stop.
• Bullying is never okay and they have the right to be safe.
• No one deserves to be bullied.
• They deserve to be treated with respect.
• They have the right to feel safe at school.
2. Support and empower your child
After hearing your child’s story, empower them to create an action plan to help stop the bullying. Talk with your child about ways you can support them as well as intervention strategies they can use, such as working with the school or advocating on their own.
Creating a plan that works with your child’s strengths and abilities can help build self-confidence and resilience. Make sure to share these agreed-upon strategies with those involved in your child’s life, such as teachers, coaches and other adults who interact with your child on a daily basis.
Reactions to avoid:
Telling your child to stand up to the bully. This can imply that it is your child’s responsibility to handle the situation. While there is a ring of truth to this statement (being assertive is often a good response) sending your child back into the situation without further information will probably cause more harm. A more effective response is to brainstorm options with your child about what you can do as a team to respond to the situation.
Telling your child to ignore the bully. This is easier said than done. Your child has probably tried ignoring the situation, which is a typical response for children. If that method had been effective, however, there wouldn’t be a need for the child to seek your help. It is difficult to ignore someone who is sitting behind you on the bus or next to you in class. In addition, if the student who is bullying realizes that their target is purposefully “ignoring” them, it can actually ignite further bullying, since that response provides the sense of power and control the student seeks.
Taking matters into your own hands. A normal gut response from parents is to try to fix the situation and remove their child from harm. For example, a parent might call the parents of the student who is bullying or directly confront the bully. Remember, when children tell a parent about bullying, they are looking for the parent to guide them to a solution that makes them feel empowered. Involve them in the process of determining next steps. Typically, calling the other parent or directly confronting the bullying student is ineffective.
3. Learn your rights
Check your state’s legislation on bullying. Each state has different laws and policies on bullying, along with requirements on how schools should respond. Visit StopBullying.gov to find out the laws your state has put in place. Also, check your state’s Department of Education website for a state Safe Schools Office, which can be a great local resource to learn more about your state and school’s policy. You may also want to look up your child’s school’s policy on bullying.
4. Think through who else should be involved
In addition to being supportive and empowering your child to write down a plan, it can be very helpful to document the steps that you plan to take or have already implemented. Written records provide a history of incidences and responses, which can be very helpful when addressing the issue with school administrators or law enforcement.
You should also create a strategy for how to involve others that can help your child. This might include determining who you will contact at school, what you plan to ask them and how you will be involved. Other options include contacting a guidance counselor or other health professionals for advice. If the situation doesn’t change, your plan might include steps to contact local law enforcement or legal counsel.
5. Get involved in the community
Bullying touches many lives and it might be happening to others in your child’s school or community. You can help by raising awareness through community events, attending workshops or trainings in your community or sharing information with others.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, which PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center founded in 2006. PACER provides innovative resources for students, parents, educators and others, and recognizes bullying as a serious community issue that impacts education, physical and emotional health, and the safety and well-being of students. For information, visit: PACER.org/bullying or call 952-838-9000 or 888-248-0822 (national toll free).