Bullying: What's a Parent to Do?
Kids will be kids and teasing is normal; they really don’t mean any harm.
Just ignore it and it will go away.
All you have to do is stand up for yourself.
Is this the kind of advice that you would give to your child if he reported being picked on at school? Sure, maybe the first time he was called a name, or the second time he’s intentionally pushed to the back of the line in the cafeteria. But is this the approach you would take if your child was singled out in a mean and hurtful way day after day? Of course not!
You need to remember to use your words instead of your hands.
Detention again? Why can’t you stay out of the principal’s office?
Did you know the boy who tried to hurt himself because he was picked on?
I wonder why she is missing so many days of school…she seems like such a sweet girl.
The thoughts and feelings underlying these comments and questions could be unrecognized signs that bullying is taking place. Bullying involves not only the child being victimized, but also the one doing the bullying, and those who stand by and don’t take action. Even when it isn’t possible to protect the bullied child from a particular incident, there’s no excuse for not taking a stand and taking action that will discourage or prevent bullying behavior from happening again.
How You Can Help
- Stop bullying before it starts. Let everyone know (your child and his friends, school personnel, the bus driver, sports coach…everyone!) that you’re on the prowl for signs of bullying—and that you expect everyone else to do the same. Preventing and stopping bullying is a shared responsibility, and one that is not voluntary. Ask to see the school’s anti-bullying policy, and ask that the details regarding recognizing and reporting, consequences, and prevention activities be shared frequently with parents and faculty. If your child’s school doesn’t have a policy currently in place, insist that the administration implement one.
- Use the word “bullying” with your child; make sure he knows what it means. Your kid may not know that the hurtful behavior they’re being forced to endure is wrong, mistaking it for “attention” or “acceptance” from peers. If your child is the one doing the bullying, help him to understand the negative impact it has on their social status, since this is often why children engage in bullying behavior in the first place. If he’s a bystander who sees bullying taking place, talk about how he can handle the situation by positively intervening, or telling a trusted adult—without fear of being targeted himself. Remind your child that doing nothing isn’t an option; it simply enables the aggressive child to continue harassing his peers.
- Help your child know what to do, and assure him that he won't get in trouble. The perceived consequences of “tattling” could be keeping your child from sharing his bullying experiences. Help your child know the difference between “tattling” and “reporting an incident of bullying.” This is equally important for children who are being victimized, who are instigating the bullying, or who are bystanders and not speaking up on behalf of those directly involved.
- Know your rights, and don’t be afraid to exercise them. The U.S. government, under both education and civil rights law, recognizes that bullying and harassment are forms of discrimination. Include a goal about bullying in your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP); ask about bullying at every parent teacher conference; and if bullying issues are not properly addressed, be prepared to file a formal complaint with the Office of Civil Rights. None of these actions are excessive or inappropriate to ensure the safety and wellbeing of your child.
You may disagree with your child, other parents, and school personnel about certain issues, but there should be no question that every individual deserves respect, and that it’s everyone’s responsibility to protect the physical and emotional wellbeing of every child, treating them as valued and respected members of the community. By preventing this devaluing and stigmatization of children, you can help stop the long-lasting impact on the victimized child as well as the community as a whole.
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Reprinted with the permission of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. © 1999-2009 National Center for Learning Disabilities, Inc. All Rights Reserved.