The B Word, Part 2: How to make bullying stop

Raising Kids |

This is the second post in our series on Bullying.

If your child is being bullied, s/he needs to know that you know, you care, and you’re going to help NOW. A child who is being bullied will have a lot of fear, anxiousness and self-doubt. Communicating your unconditional love and support is the first step. Remind your child that bullies act the way they do because of issues they are having with themselves, NOT because your child has done something wrong.

This is not your child’s “problem”, this behaviour is the bully’s problem, and it is never ok to be mean. Framing it in this way may make it easier for your child to process what has happened.

Here are some ways you can offer your child immediate expressions of support and unconditional love during a bullying crisis:

  • Hope message: Remind your child that this is a temporary situation. Yes, it is happening now, but it hasn’t always been happening and it won’t happen forever. This is something that you’ll get through as a family and it WILL go away.
  • Cheap phone: Give your child a cheap cell phone loaded with minutes, and tell them they can call you anytime.
  • Best Friends charm: buy your child a necklace or keychain that has two half hearts that fit together. You can tell your child “I can’t always be by your side in person, but our hearts are connected by a magnetic force, and so I will always be with you to give you strength. You can squeeze this charm any time you need courage and know that I’m here for you.
  • Notes and affirmations: Tuck notes in their lunch and pockets that say things like “I love you and I’m on your side!” “You’re amazing and you’re loved” “You can get through this day!”
  • Lunch pickup: If the bullying is severe or is chronically upsetting for your child, pick up your child at lunch so they only have to do a half day at a time.
  • Support network: Have trusted adults, friends, siblings and family members take your child out for excursions, dates and activities so your child feels supported, appreciated and special.

Step two: document the facts.

If the bullying is happening in the school or daycare environment versus more generally in your neighborhood, take notes of the details, instances, and individuals involved. This will help you if you need to have a meeting at the school and you want to be adequately prepared.

Step three: determine if the bullying can be managed by the child, or if it’s beyond their capacity.

After you’ve documented the facts, you’ll have a clearer picture of what’s going on. There are levels of severity when it comes to bullying, and this is how I evaluate whether or not the bullying is something a child can attempt to manage, or if it needs to straight to adult intervention.

In the early stages, bullying might involve subtle actions like eye rolling, excluding, snickering or whispering, or the child feeling like their friends are always siding with each other and opposing them. However, when bullying has escalated to repeated, systematic verbal insults and physical targeting, this is beyond what we would expect the child to be able to negotiate with. This is not a safe situation for your child to try to manage.

ADULT INTERVENTION: Make an emergency appointment with the teacher or administrator

If the bullying is occurring at your child’s school, preschool or daycare, you need to talk to the teacher or administrator ASAP. Bring your notes that you’ve prepared from Step One and calmly explain what your child has disclosed. Ask the teacher, administrator or caregiver to share their perspective on the events.

If you believe your child’s physical safety is being threatened, keep them home from school or daycare until you have met with Admin and an appropriate plan has been put in place to keep your child safe. Once a plan is in place, continue to follow up with the school and request regular updates on the situation. This will help you to stay informed, and will also ensure the issue remains top-of-mind with the school administration. 

Online bullying: Suspend/monitor your child’s social accounts

If your child is being targeted online, report the perpetrator(s) using the app’s reporting feature (if applicable). You may wish to save screen shots of the offensive messages to have as a record of the events. It might also be a good idea for your child to delete/take a break from their social accounts while the situation is being dealt with—use your judgment here.  If online bullying has escalated to threats against your child’s safety, you should contact your local police department. If the incidents involve other kids at your child’s school, make an appointment to discuss the online bullying with school administration so that they can also address it.

Should I talk to the parent of the child who is bullying my child?

Deciding whether or not to speak to the parent who has been bullying your child will depend on the situation. If you have a good relationship with the other parent, it might work well to speak to them first before going to the teacher. However, if you don’t know the family well, it is best to go through the teacher or caregiver and allow them to handle it. If bullying is occurring on school grounds, it is the responsibility of the school to intervene. This is why it’s best practice to approach your child’s teacher first.  

Should I teach my child to fight back? 

In general, fighting back is not a good idea. Encouraging your child to fight back may give the impression that aggression is an OK way to deal with a problem. Tell your child that it is always better to use words or practice the WITS strategies, which are a fantastic resource. And of course, your child can lean on you to help. There is no need to meet violence with violence.