Bullying is about the lack of respect in a relationship between two people that continues over time. It involves repeatedly breaking emotional and physical boundaries. Often, these boundaries are broken as one person intentionally (or unintentionally) attempts to exert power or influence over another in order to obtain or maintain a sense of control.
In order to prevent or manage bullying, a person must be able to identify their own individual boundaries and to respect and cherish them. Then, they must be able to communicate ways to keep those boundaries safe from harm. Beyond that, they must recognize that other people have boundaries too and be respectful towards them.
How do I talk to my child's teacher?
Like you would want someone to talk with you! Choose a good time, make sure you have as much information about the particular situation as you can get, and prepare some questions beforehand. Think about what you need them to know, what you are worried about, what you want to happen, and how you can help. If possible, try to be calm. “I” language works well: “I need you to know what I heard on the way home the other day.” “I am feeling really worried and pretty angry.” “I am feeling helpless.” “I need your help.” “How can you help?” “What should we do at home?” “What happens next?” “I need a plan.” Some parents go in very worried but communicate anger towards the teacher – which actually can be bullying towards the teacher. It makes sense to feel that way, so it is helpful to write down questions, plan what you need to say and ask, and take a support person if possible.
When is it appropriate to contact my school's administration?
If you feel like it is an emergency, call them immediately. Trust your judgment. They would rather know too much than not enough. It is always okay to say something like, “This may not be important, or you may already be working on it, but I feel better if I make sure you know about this situation.” Remember that, because of confidentiality, they are limited in what they can tell you. They will most likely appreciate that you are sharing a perspective about the situation or giving them a “heads up” to keep an eye on something or prevent some future problems! If possible, it works best to start with the teacher and move “up” only if that does not work. It is okay to say to the teacher, “I understand that you have done all you can to help. I hope you understand that I feel like I need more help, and I am going to continue advocating for Bobby by talking with the principal because I know she has some options that are unavailable to you.”
How do I help my child to be a helpful bystander?
It will depend on the age and circumstances, of course! Try to incorporate your thoughts about bystanders in discussions about current events, books, movies, television programs, and real-life family events. Point out positive situations where a bystander does stand up for someone! Praise your child when you see him/her stand up for someone. Be a good role model and explain when you are trying to intervene in a helpful way. Listen and respond, listen and reflect, listen and share. If you incorporate this type of communication into your relationship, it will be easier to handle an actual problem situation.
Remember, these skills are like any reading or math skills that develop over time – kids do not know innately how to handle these situations. Most of the time they are silent because they don’t know what to do, don’t want to make a situation worse, or don’t want to get in trouble. It is highly anxiety-provoking to be a bystander and try to judge when to intervene, when to get help, when to stay silent, and when to let their friend handle the situation on their own!
How do I get my kid to stand up for himself/herself?
It is really important to bring up the idea of standing up for oneself or one’s peers in a calm, respectful manner. Shaming, yelling, and criticizing will not help the behavior develop, and will likely make it worse because of frustration and anxiety. The child very likely wants to stand up for himself and does not know how to do so! Bring up the situation you are concerned about in a calm way, when you have the time to be attentive. Try saying: “Honey, I love you. I am worried because I saw X happen, and if that happened to me, I would be really sad. Can you tell me what happened and how you feel about it?” Listening calmly, praise them for sharing. Ask, “What can I do to help you figure this out?” Brainstorm ideas. Practice solutions. Role-play your ideas. Make a plan and follow through with it! Teaching kids how to talk using “I” language and having them list their resources and options are great places to start!
At what age should I speak to my child about bullying?
We “speak” to them in many ways!! From birth, we are communicating with our kids as we bond, interact, and respond. They model our expressions, they learn to trust, and they learn the basics of give-and-take in relationships at a very basic level! They observe us as parents, and our very behavior “speaks” to them about boundaries and relationships – respect towards self, others, pets, things in our homes, the world.
Talk with them about what they are doing. Label feelings. Praise what you are proud of. Avoid shaming at all costs! Offer options and descriptive verbal praise. If feedback is required, keep it directed towards the behavior and not the child. If you take a behavior away from them, make sure they have one to replace it. Practice the behavior you want to see and praise it when you see them demonstrate healthy positive social behavior.
How do I talk about dating and dating violence with my child?
Think about what your child observes in relationships closest to home and remember you already are talking (communicating) with them at some level about these things! Discussing relationships as depicted in books and movies is a good idea because it provides the safety of “distance.” Sharing articles (developed for kids of the appropriate age) and talking about them is also helpful. If you have a pattern of talking with your child about things from an early age, it will be easier to talk about these more “sensitive” topics as they get older. Use humor if you can! Let them know that what you are sharing with them is very much about you and your worries and concerns for them, and not a reflection of your lack of trust in their judgment or behavior.
There is a format for teaching how to drive a car – knowing how to navigate a relationship is at least as important! It is important that they have thought through what they might do in a specific situation so that they do not end up in a harmful situation because they panicked and did not know what to do! Present scenarios, ask them how they might respond, share ideas, and practice some of them!
What do I do when I think my spouse is bullying my children?
If you think it is abusive, call the Child Abuse Prevention hotline. If you think it is harmful, but not abusive (this can be difficult in some cases to figure out), make time to talk with your spouse without the children present. Try to be calm and share your concerns using “I” language. Say what you saw, why you are worried, what you would rather see happen. Ask what the situation seemed like from their perspective. Hopefully, conversation will lead to problem-solving and change. If not, seek professional help. This will not change on its own. Parents who bully or abuse children become models for their children, who can become bullies in their own relationships with others. Children will observe and learn from the people that mean the most to them.
I know my child is being bullied, but denies it. How can I help?
Provide opportunities to teach your child about bullying. There are many books available at the library on this topic. There are good handouts online. Many websites have activities you can do with your children to help them learn about bullying so that they have opportunities to learn about it and develop the skills and words to talk about it. Tell them why it seems to you like they are being bullied, provide examples, and share your own examples of when similar things have happened. They really may not perceive the situation to be about bullying. Monitor it, because, as they become more aware, they will likely develop perspective and insight as the pattern continues.
Should I contact the police or child protective services?
If you have any concern that a child is at risk, call. It is not only “better safe than sorry,” but it is the law. In Nebraska, every person is required to report if they have reason to believe a child is at risk. You are not expected to have “proof;” you only need to be concerned and call in “good faith.” It is fine to tell them you are not sure if you should call or not. Give them the information and let the experts decide!
What can I do it my child needs help, but I can't afford it?
Never let cost prevent you from getting help! There are many services available to help kids regardless of income. Start with the school – nearly all schools have counselors and school psychologists who know about services that are available on a sliding scale or at no cost. Call your insurance company and see what they offer. Call your pediatrician and see what they offer. Call your priest, minister, or rabbi and see what they offer. Look online and in the phone book at the variety of hotline numbers! Many can provide immediate support and connect you to appropriate longer-term resources as well.
What do I do when my kid's friend becomes a bully?
Have a set of rules about bullying that are enforced in your home that apply to your own children as well as to their visitors. If you see bullying behavior, make a statement like, “Hey, guys! We have house rules about bullying!” Be clear about what those rules are; even if different behaviors are acceptable in other households, it is feasible that children will behave without bullying while in your home and under your supervision.
Doing a group activity with kids that discusses respectful behavior to others also allows for important discussions on the topic without pointedly addressing the children about specific behaviors. Praising other children in the group who are exhibiting appropriate bystander and social behaviors are also options; often, peers will want the positive attention they see others receiving and change their own behavior.
It is also a good idea to talk with your child when you see the bullying behavior and privately discuss the situation with them. Chances are that your child will like the other child but not the bullying behavior. Help them find a way to communicate this or to incorporate you in their plan! It is okay for your child to tell another, “I like to spend time with you, but not when you are doing X. So, right now, I cannot play with you or come to your house.” Rehearsing and practicing these situations can be helpful to children.
What do I do when one of my children is bullying a brother or sister?
Be clear, calm, firm, and consistent: “It is bullying when you make fun of people, and we do not bully in our family. I need you to stop and apologize. Then, we can talk about what the problem is.” Kids of all ages have problems with impulse control, and need guidance to think about their actions. Telling kids to stop – “I need you to think about what you are doing” – gives them a cue to stop before there is a major consequence.
In a family setting, kids often model what they see. Consider what kids see in their home and family environments. Could they be observing bullying behavior that they are modeling? Always remember to praise appropriate behavior when you observe it. Descriptive social praise is the best praise because it communicates to children exactly what you are pleased with. “I love the way you helped your sister out of her chair” is much more effective than just saying, “Great job.”
What do I do when I encounter parents who think bullying is okay?
This often happens when another parent will say, “Oh, it is just a part of being a kid – let them figure it out themselves!” – as their child is pounding on yours! I often say to parents, “We used to accept diphtheria as a fact of life, too – but we have learned to control so many diseases with inoculations! I want to inoculate our kids with skill vaccines to help them be strong when faced with bullying!”
Remember to use “I” language and think about what you want to say to other parents. It’s not helpful to challenge their discipline style in an equally bullying manner: “Well, that shows how educated you are!” Try a more gentle-but-firm statement about what you can control: “I know a lot of people think that, but we are trying it a different way. At our house, we try to inoculate our kids with skills to prevent bullying! We know they will face it, but we want to help face the challenges successfully. I understand what you are saying for your kids, but we do it differently. I really appreciate your support in accepting this.”
I think my child's teacher is a bully. What do I do?
Given that any person can be a bully, this can and does happen. Listen to your child and what they tell you. Even if they are not being bullied, their perspective is important to understand. Try to observe and get as much information as possible to better understand the situation as a whole.
Although abuse does happen in the classroom, it is likely that something more ambiguous will be occurring. Every child is different in their perspective of stress and the impact that stress has on their mental health and well-being. Some teachers are always yelling at children, and even those children who are not the target of the yelling can feel bullied and anxious.
If possible, advocate for your child in a calm and diplomatic manner. If not possible, you need to do what you can to protect your child. Sometimes it is helpful to ask a counselor or principal to keep an eye on the situation so that they can observe the behavior directly and intervene on behalf of all children and staff (rather than for a specifically singled-out child.) If at any time you feel that your child’s emotional or physical safety is at risk, go directly to the principal or appropriate reporting agency.
Is it okay for my child to stay home from school when he/she is being bullied?
Sadly, sometimes this will be the best choice. A problem can occur when kids begin to want to stay home too much and miss the important academic and social opportunities that school provides. It is not good if kids begin to rely on avoidance to escape the bullying. It is more helpful if they observe and learn how to communicate about bullying and try various strategies to change the situation.
That said, every child and individual situation is different. There are times when a child is overwhelmed or when a situation must be diffused with time; in such cases, a “mental health day” is appropriate. Use these days judiciously and with forethought so no one becomes dependent on them. When you decide they are needed (you know you child better than anyone else!), make sure your child does not miss important school assignments. Make sure they know how to nurture themselves: getting extra rest, spending quiet time with a pet or parent, having an extra session with a therapist. Use the time in a way that will be beneficial.
When is it time to change classes or schools?
This will vary, but, sadly, it is sometimes a last-resort necessity. Ask yourself:
- Have I used all the resources available to me within the school system, with minimal to no change in circumstances?
- How does my child feel about leaving? Has he/she asked to leave?
- Where are we in the school year? Changing schools midway requires a different set of considerations than changing schools two weeks before the end of the school year.
- What are the pros and cons (write them down and think about them!) of staying versus leaving?
- Even though it is not “fair” that my child leaves (rather than the bully), is it safer for my child if we do change?
- Is my child in any physical danger?
- Does my child have a therapist to discuss this decision with?
- What are the implications for my child regarding academics, social interactions, extracurricular activities, and relationships with neighborhood peers?
- Is it possible for my child to be successful, learn, and feel good about himself/herself in this current situation?
Some parents worry that their child will be considered a “quitter” if they change schools, but sometimes, truly, our kids need us to make that very difficult decision, after trying other options, to keep them physically and mentally safe.
My child is being a bully. What can I do?
Give yourself credit for being open to seeing this and wanting to make it better! Educate your child and family about bullying. Set up household definitions, rules, and consequences. Praise your child for positive behavior. If necessary, seek professional support from school, your pediatrician, your clergy, or mental health care providers. The earlier this behavior can be caught and addressed, the better for your child and family. Bullying can change, but only if kids get feedback and substitute behaviors to communicate their legitimate emotional and behavioral needs.