Five points to consider now.
Imagine your child has a target on his or her back at school or is wearing a sign that says “Kick me.” Everyone sees the target or sign but him. Imagine how lonely it must feel walking down the hallway to jeers and taunts, facing unfriendly faces in the cafeteria, and being afraid to walk home or go on the bus because the bully might be waiting there for you.
Few situations can make a child and his or her parents feel more powerless, helpless and overwhelmed than bullying. Here are specific steps you can take to protect your child.
Many children never tell their parents how bad things really get for them at school. Bullying can be very isolating for the victim. If you notice your child suddenly doesn’t want to go to school or becomes upset after going online, he or she might be the target of bullying or cyberbullying. Encourage your child to come to you for help, no matter the circumstance. They might think they’re to blame because they tried to fight back, or because they didn’t say anything at all. The meaner and harsher the bullies are, the gentler, kinder, and more encouraging you need to be at home to counterbalance all the ugly behavior your child has been exposed to at school and online.
2. Show compassion for your child.
It’s easy for a parents frustration to turn into anger—and for a child to pick up on this. Kids who are being bullied frequently blame themselves and wonder how they can get rid of this unwelcome attention.
A little tenderness goes a long way. Seek alternative sources of kindness, validation, acceptance, and respect for your child whether it’s a martial arts class, summer camp, or friends from church or temple. Let your child express his or her feelings of hurt, sadness, and anger in a safe space. Physical activities and creative pursuits are particularly good for releasing fear and expressing emotions. Keep in mind that victims of cyberbullying are often more depressed than victims of physical bullying. Some families find it helpful to move their child into a new school or school district for a fresh start.
3. Turn up the heat.
A bully likes to keep his victims on his radar and target them for abuse. This is how a bully gets attention, but when the bully gets on the radar of teachers, students, and school personnel, it’s not nearly so funny or safe for the bully to lash out.
Enlist the help of your child’s teacher, any teacher’s aides, PTA moms, security guards, school secretaries, and the school nurse to be on the lookout for your child’s welfare, and direct your child where to go if he needs help. If he’s always getting roughed up in the bathroom, help him come up with a plan not to go by himself.
4. Keep a record.
Tell your child to try and remember as much as possible from each incident—and to get specific about details such as what the bully wore, said, and did. Were there any witnesses or grown-ups around? Where did this happen? Encourage your child to focus and think instead of simply reacting to the bully’s intimidation tactics. Instead of being a passive target, your child is learning how to be an active and observant advocate.
Write down everything your child tells you and keep it in a separate journal for reference. Keep records of all the calls you make and communications you have with the school, including e-mails. Be sure to note the date, time, and person you talked to about the complaint and what their response was, if they promised to follow up. You might have to call or e-mail several times. Take screen shots of any vicious gossip that appears on Facebook and MySpace pages.
If the bullying escalates into violence, a pattern of daily harassment, or physical threats, consider filing a police report or hiring an attorney. (If the bullying is on the basis of race or sexual orientation, you might be able to find an attorney through a non-profit group such as the ACLU.) Keeping a history of incidents will help you substantiate your case and make sure your child’s experience is taken seriously.
5. “I don’t want to be a snitch! The other kids will hate me.”
Sometimes children will worry that the bullys taunts and torture will get worse if they dare to speak up and complain. This is a valid concern. Tell your child that very rarely do bullies get better on their own without some kind of intervention.
Remember, when you fight a bully, you are defending and protecting the rights of every child in the school—not just yours. With all the increased scrutiny and questioning, your kid may be feeling more like a zero than a hero. Remind your kid of her heroic qualities and that her speaking up can make all the difference in protecting herself and another child.