Approximately 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students. Clearly, bullying is a national problem that deeply affects local communities and families. And yet, many adults hesitate to act when they observe or hear about bullying. Adults need to understand that bullying is not a typical phase of childhood that must be endured to help children “toughen up.” All forms of bullying are harmful to victims, perpetrators, and victims. The effects—including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, family violence, and criminal behavior—last well into adulthood.
Whether your child has been bullied or not, learn what actions you can take now to keep him safe.
Maintain an encouraging home environment
Kids learn by example. When you model tolerance, patience, communication, and problem solving, your child will follow your lead. For example, if you get angry at a waiter, a sales clerk, a fellow driver on the road, or your own child, you have an opportunity to model effective communication. Don’t blow it by blowing your top! Help your child understand that he can’t control the behavior of others, but he does have the power to choose how to respond to bullying. Coach him to react appropriately, whether he’s a victim or a witness: find an adult right away, tell the bullying child to stop, walk away, and ignore the bully. Practice these techniques periodically.
The more questions you ask your child, fellow parents, and school personnel, the faster you’ll know if your child is vulnerable to bullying or is being bullied. Ask what the social climate is like at the school. Ask if your child eats lunch in a group or alone. At home, decrease the possibility of cyberbullying by setting limits for your child’s use of the Internet, social media, and texting. Many adults and children don’t realize what cyberbullying is and that it’s a problem. Cyberbullying includes sending mean, rude, vulgar, or threatening messages or images; posting sensitive, private information about another person; pretending to be someone else to make that person look bad; and intentionally excluding someone from an online group. Encourage your child to bring cyberbullying to your attention and to not respond.
Create positive social opportunities
Kids with low self-esteem struggle to make and keep friends, which makes them vulnerable to bullying—and so the unhealthy cycle goes. By arranging safe, adult-supervised social opportunities outside your child’s usual group of peers, you can help break this cycle. Arrange a playdate, and give the kids a chance to practice skills like listening, sharing, cooperating, and taking turns. Look to youth programs, community centers, and libraries, which offer plenty of free and affordable activities, classes, and events for children.
Learn the signs
Statistics show that an adult is notified in only about one-third of bullying cases, so you should learn to recognize signs of being victimized. Bullied children may try to avoid going to school or doing homework, complain of headaches and stomachaches, and have trouble sleeping. They’re often anxious, withdrawn, irritable, or angry for no apparent reason. Other warning signs include fear of other children, difficulty making friends, frequent loss of personal belongings, and a noticeable change in dress style. If you suspect that your child is being bullied, talk with his teacher and find ways to observe his peer interactions to determine whether or not your suspicions are correct.
Get involved with the school
Research shows that two-thirds of bullying happens when adults aren’t present. Volunteering at your child’s school can help reduce the possibility of bullying. Whether you can volunteer once a week or once a month, you can make a real difference just by being there. Get to know the teacher, school counselor, principal, and even the lunchroom staff and school security. They can all be on the alert and help your child if needed. Ask about the school’s anti-bullying policies and practices. According the National Parent Teacher Association, two-thirds of parents have never talked to their children’s teachers about safety issues at school. If no policy is in place, start the conversation. Over time, if the school is unresponsive to your concerns, you may want to notify your school superintendent or state education department.
Find the right school
Sometimes, a school is just a bad fit for a certain kid. Try to find a school where your child has a good chance of being accepted and having a healthy social life. If he has been bullied and you’ve done all you can to resolve the situation, consider changing schools. One option is online schooling. As the leader in K-through-12 online learning, K12 offers tuition-free online public schools in 33 states and Washington, D.C., and three online private schools worldwide. Through this schooling option, the possibility of bullying or cyberbullying is greatly reduced because you are closely involved in your child’s education. Instruction is also delivered in a safe, online, teacher-led learning environment.
Remember, these steps are only a starting point. Solving the problem of bullying will take far more than the work of a few invested parents, teachers, and school administrators. But all your efforts have value. Whoever and wherever you are, you can make strides toward awareness, advocacy, and improvement.
Anne Altieri is a senior writer for K12. She has more than a decade of experience as a freelance and staff writer, covering topics such as education, early children’s literacy, and lifestyle issues. For more information about K12's tuition-free, online public schools in one-third of the U.S, please visit the K12 website.