How To Find out If Your Child is Being Bullied – What To Do About It.
My Child is Being Bullied – Steps to Take Now!
You find out that your child is being bullied at school. You watch your child become withdrawn, fearful and seemingly not themselves. What do you do?
You don’t wait. You take action. You stop the bullying.
RED FLAGS THAT YOUR CHILD IS BEING BULLIED
From an earlier post, we know what bullying behavior looks like and also noted other behaviours that should not be confused with bullying, such as conflict, rough play and teasing between friends.
Sadly, children who are being bullied may not tell. They may feel they will get in trouble by the school, they may feel shame or embarrassment, they may fear retaliation or they may feel in part, responsible for the bullying.
Worse, they may feel that they have let you down, or disappointed you in some way.
Some children may be comfortable telling, and others may be quite hesitant, or may even try to hide their victimization. It is important to recognize the red flags that will present themselves if your child is being bullied. Bullying has many negative effect and should not be allowed to continue. In “Bullying No More”, Kimberly Mason, identifies signs parents can look out for.
Would you know if your child was being bullied if they did not tell you?
Your child may a target of a bully if they are:
- coming home with torn or dirty clothes
- coming home with damaged or missing property
- becoming anxious or sad
- suffering from chronic pain such as stomach-aches and headaches
- exhibiting a change in sleeping patterns, lack of sleep or is having bad dreams
- losing interest in normal activities
- hesitant to go to school
Ideally, we want our children to come to us directly, instead of having to guess. This comes from keeping the lines of communication open and not overreacting.
If you suspect your child is being bullied, do not wait. Take action swiftly. Do not feel as if you are being an over-protective parent – there is too much at stake. Bullies select target they feel will not tell. The harassment will continue and the bully will get bolder.
Swift action does not mean to fly off the handle. A methodological approach with a cool head and a firm voice is needed. Mason advocates a 3-phase solution, which is integrated into our 3 steps to stop bullying outlined below.
STEP 1 – GET THE FULL STORY
The warning signs, or red flags, outlined above, should prompt you to start questioning and gathering information. Of course, the biggest red flag of all, is if your child tells you that they are being bothered, harassed or taunted.
If they do not come to you, and you suspect bullying, then you need to start probing. Be careful not to start interrogating! You do not want your child to shut down.
Start by asking your child indirect questions:
- What did you do at recess?
- Who do you sit beside?
- Are there kids in your class that get in trouble often?
- Are there kids in school who are mean or not-so-nice to other kids?
- Are there kids in school who are mean or not-so-nice to you?
This allows you to start a conversation with your child about their classmates and peers.
You may learn that they spend recess alone most of the time. This makes them easier targets for bullies and the isolation itself may be a bullying tactic. If they rhyme off a list of friends, then they may be somewhat protected by inclusion in a group.
It may be easier for your child to talk in-general about kids who are trouble-makers or who they recognize as bullies, than to talk about themselves. They may tell you that Johnny gets sent to the office a lot, or that Johnny took Sara’s book. From here, you can drill down to ask if Johnny ever bothered them. If so, then start documenting. You want the details of each incident – what happened, where it happened and who was around.
Once your child starts talking, listen, listen and listen. Do not interrupt. Let them express themselves and take note of their feelings and words. Go back to things you need clarification on once they are done. Document.
Your child may get quite upset and emotional when relaying their experience to you. Give your child validation, support and reassurance:
- acknowledge and empathize with their experience and pain,
- acknowledge their courage in telling you,
- tell them that their concerns are valid and that you are taking them seriously,
- tell them that being bullied is not acceptable and something must be done,
- reassure them that you will stop at nothing to help, and
- tell them you love them (those little words can go along way).
Start building them up again to counter the effects of bullying. You have already started to empower them by taking them seriously and standing up for them. Next, instead of jumping in and taking it away from them, enable them take control of the situation.
- Who have you told?
- What have you tried?
- What can I do to help?
- What steps you need taken to make you feel safe again?
Perhaps the hardest part of this information gathering stage, will be to say calm while you hear what your child is going through. Show concern and empathy, but do not overreact or show extreme emotion. You do not want your child thinking that they are causing you grief. They may feel they need to shelter you, instead of the other way around.
In this step, you have provided your child much needed support and given them a sense of control. You have probed and you have documented the circumstances.
STEP 2 – DEAL WITH THE SCHOOL
The information and documentation you have gathered now needs to be translated into a course of action. This is where the cool head and firm voice is imperative. You will get less resistance and more cooperation from the school if you have a clear plan of action.
1. Have your child report the harassment
Your child should tell the teacher or principal without delay, to get immediate intervention from the school. Your child may fear retaliation from the bully- let your child know that reporting it will not make any worse – the bullying is happening anyways. Your child can bring a friend for moral support.
They should provide the facts:
- who is doing the bullying,
- description of the harassment, taunts, hitting, intimidation and other behaviour,
- what the child has tried to cope with, or stop the bully, and
- what the child wants the teachers, lunchroom monitors or coaches to do.
Your first thought may be to pick up the phone yourself, but it is important for your child to take control to regain their sense of self-confidence. Help them form their script, and be there for them after school to listen.
2. Contact the school
Allow your child to lead and start the process, but make no mistake, your involvement is still needed. Request a meeting with school officials. Start with the teacher or principal, and if you do not get a response then go up the ladder to the school board and superintendent.
You can do this by means of phone call, but an email will provide documentation and proof of reaching out. You don’t need to go into full detail yet, but you want to make your message clear.
Hello Mr. Wilson:
My son Joshua is in your grade 6 class. He normally loves going to school and usually has minimal complaints. However lately he has been coming home upset and when probed he revealed that he is being called names and is being pushed around at recess.
I would appreciate a meeting with you to discuss what is going on and how we can address this before it happens again.
Please email or contact me at this number XXX-XXXX. I would like to meet tomorrow to resolve this as soon as possible.
3. Prepare for the meeting
Remember the first step was to gather all the information you could from your child? Now you need to gather all the information you can from the teachers, coaches and other parents.
Ask how your child gets along with others. Ask if they have they noticed any problems or trouble between your child and another. If you get a chance, ask other parents if they have heard of any incidents.
Read your school’s policy on dealing with bullying. Note any violations that fit. Read your school board’s policy on bullying – does it line up with what the school enforces?
4. Attend the meeting
It may be a good idea to leave your child out of the initial meeting. You do not know what will be said or how it will be said. Once you know the tone of those involved, you can have your child join you, if you feel it appropriate.
Here is where you want to present the specifics – the details. The who, what, where, when and how your child was bullied. Name names. The bully, the bystanders and any adults your child has reported it to. Pull out all your documentation, including the school policies. Stay calm, present your case, and ask what the school can do, will do, to intervene.
Ask for a plan that is put in writing. It should outline explicit steps that will be taken and by whom. It should cover cooperation from all those who need to be involved – teachers, monitors and office staff. It should have a means to track action taken and results.
Prior to leaving, set up a follow-up meeting to discuss progress. If the bullying involves physical threats, or physical harm, let the school know that you are prepared to take it to the authorities.
5. After the meeting
Take a day- then email those involved thanking them for their cooperation in ensuring a safe learning environment for your child. This is a reminder that you are expecting changes immediately.
In this step, you have enlisted support from the school to intervene and provide a safe environment for your child again. You can reassure your child that steps are being taken and that they have backing.
STEP 3 – DEAL WITH THE BULLY
Step two was to get immediate intervention from the school. However, there is no guarantee that your child will never be bullied again. Step three is about building up your child’s ability to deal with these tormentors.
You may not be able to bully-proof your child in terms of keeping aggressors away completely, (bullies will test their targets), but you can teach your child how to cope with bullies.
This starts at home, by developing resilience, the ability to bounce back from negative experiences.
Children who are resilient:
- foster healthy relationships,
- develop positive views of themselves,
- demonstrate flexibility and adaptability,
- become self-confident,
- show perseverance,
- feel competent and
- trust their skills and judgment,
Children who are resilient are more likely to develop anti-bullying skills!
COGNITIVE AND BEHAVIORAL STRATEGIES
Teach your child the skills to confront a bully. These take practice, and will give your child some control in what may be an uncontrollable situation.
Cognitive strategies can help change, or re-frame, how you view an event, circumstance or situation. Behavioral strategies help change your physical response, or what you do, when confronted with a situation. Using these strategies, you can change how you think and how you react.
Teach your child positive self-talk
This will help your child develop an assertive and self-assured mind-set. Have your child write down or voice what they are good at. Do it daily. Have your child repeat all the “I can…”s that they can.
Help your child take a negative thought and transform it into a positive one. Instead of telling themselves “I am too scared to go out for recess”, have them say “I may be scared, but I can find a friend or teacher to be with, and I can do it!”
Positive self-talk has an impact on one’s outlook and attitude towards themselves. Your child may discover hidden courage or strength they can draw on to get them through the day when needed.
Teach your child relaxation strategies
Bullies need a reaction for validation – anger, tears, fear – any emotional response they can elicit is positive reinforcement for them. Have your child practice relaxation techniques to stay calm and manage emotions.
- Letting go of tension. Have your child close their eyes, clench their fists and scrunch up their shoulders. Hold tense for a few seconds, then have them let go. Have them note how they feel before and after.
- Controlling their breathing. Take deep breaths, count to 3, then release slowly. For younger children you can do this by blowing bubbles.
- Re-focusing. Have your child keep reminders of pleasant memories nearby, such as a favourite trinket, photograph or key chain. Recalling an enjoyable time or amusing event can be calming.
Teach your child verbal strategies
Your child can take away the bully’s power by not letting their taunts and cruel words get to them. Teach your child to say “so” and “whatever”. Have them practice keeping a poker face and responding with humor:
If the bully says “you’re ugly”, you shrug your shoulders, sigh and say “yeah, what can you do?”. If the bully says “you’re fat”, grab your tummy and say “yeah, I better stop with the doughnuts!”.
Carried out properly, they will get a laugh from those around, and the bully will be embarrassed that they failed in embarrassing their target! Your child does not need to be sarcastic or provocative – the goal is to get out of the situation safely, not to antagonize the bully.
Teach your child empowering language
You don’t want the bully to succeed in harassing your child. Again, take the power away. Don’t give him encouragement with statements such as “You hurt my feelings”. The term “you”, meant that he had an affect on your child! Take that away by using “I”.
Have your child practice their assertive voice. Then have your them practice statements that relays their perspective, and directs the bully to a course of action:
“I don’t know what is going on here. I don’t even know you. Please stop”.
Now visualize it
Have your child imagine a bullying situation in detail. This can be one they have experienced, or one they are afraid of experiencing.
Have them practice using positive self-talk and relaxation techniques to face the situation.
What can they tell themselves and how can they control their reactions to not give the bully encouragement?
Next, what verbal techniques or empowering language can they use? The goal is to not provide positive feedback to the bully by showing emotion, and to safely exit the situation.
Remember, bullies will pick on those that they can elicit a reaction from. Have your child practice staying calm and confident while in front of the bully! Once they are in a safe place, they can get grip on their emotions.
Brainstorm with your child to come up with ways to avoid the bully. This may mean avoiding a certain bathroom or hallway. If they do see their tormentor coming down the hallway, they should pretend they are going in the other direction – confidently. Not ideal, but they can’t bother your child if they can’t find them. If possible, your child should try to stay in a group or in supervised areas.
Put your child in a martial arts program and let word get around. Have your child show off his black belt. Have them take a self-defense class.
You may not want to think about it, and you may not like it, but….
Give your child permission to fight!
There may come a time when the choice is to beat back or get beaten to a pulp. If the bully gets physical, tell your child to defend themselves to the end. They should keep punching, kicking and clawing until the very end of the fight.
If possible, it should be in a public area where it can be documented by teachers. Your child should not be afraid that they will get in trouble – let them know explicitly that you will support them.
Watch this video from Intructables.com on how to win a fight at school.
In this step, you have practiced skills and equipped your child with the tools needed to deal with bullies. You have also given them unconditional support.
HOW BYSTANDERS CAN STOP BULLYING
You have a clear 3 step plan to take if your child is being bullied. What about a 4th step?
This step address an element that has a considerable effect on bullying behavior – the role of the bystander. Bullies feed on fear from the victim and the attention of bystanders.
Bullies select targets they feel are weaker and that they can win against. These victims often feel powerless to fight back and too embarrassed to tell an adult. Hence, the cycle of bullying begins.
Active bystanders encourage the bully by cheering and laughing providing reinforcement for the bulling to continue. Passive bystanders facilitate the bully by not getting involved, perhaps for fear of being associated with the victim or becoming a victim themselves.
The heroes are the bystanders who intervene at their own peril. These heroes take a risk by placing themselves between the victim and the bully, scaring off the bully or getting adult help. Research has shown that when bystanders intervene, the bullying stops within minutes.
This speaks to the influence that bystanders have on whether the bullying continues or stops!
Step 4 would be to encourage bystanders to intervene and not give the bully the audience he is looking for! We should teach our kids at home and in the classroom to shun the bully and side with the victim. Bystanders seem to have an important role to play in eradicating bullying. Make sure your child is on the right side!
“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” – Albert Einstein