For any parent, it’s a nightmare to think that your child is being bullied at school. Maybe you find out from a friend; maybe from a teacher; if you’re very lucky, your child will tell you directly. But then what?
We turned to Nathaniel M. Floyd, Ph.D., child psychologist, popular anti-bullying speaker and executive director of the New York-based Institute for Violence Prevention. Over the last three decades, he and other experts have noted that bullying is as widespread as ever. Fortunately, however, he is one of many professionals in the field who are determined to make a difference. The Institute for Violence Prevention is dedicated to a “public health” approach—one which emphasizes prevention and swift, early action. When adults work together, Floyd has found, the worst effects of bullying—such as long-term victimization—don’t have a chance to take hold.
So parents, listen up! If you hear about bullying, says Dr. Floyd, here are Four R’s for you:
1. RECOGNIZE what’s happening. Maybe your child is being teased or physically attacked; or perhaps just repeatedly shut out of a group. Your first step—after getting your breath back, of course-- is to listen to the facts, all of them. Don’t flinch. When you listen, you take a crucial first step in helping your child overcome victimization.
2. RELATE to the school. Tempting as it may be to withdraw, don’t. No school wants bullying problems, but even the most talented professional can miss furtive teasing, shoving, or exclusion. “Establish a relationship with the school,” Floyd urges. “Get involved…and identify a staff person” that you trust. Your school is not the enemy; bullying behavior is. Make the school your ally.
3. REPORT incidents. When your child describes any kind of bullying, you have a responsibility: report it. This can be frustrating at times, Floyd admits, especially if the school claims “it’s never happened before.” Remember though, they may not be aware of the problem yet; that’s your job. Try not to blame or get defensive, Floyd urges; but don’t back away either.
4. RECORD what has happened and how it was handled. Schools keep discipline records, but you need them too. Write down times, dates, and actions—and don’t hesitate to pull out the list and bring it back to school if something happens again. Bullies, says Floyd, “make a school unteachable and unlearnable.” That’s the bad news. The good news, he says, is that when they handle bullying problems right, schools and parents can teach lessons about justice and safety that make a child stronger for life. So the next time you become concerned about something you’re hearing from school, remember your Four R’s. They can make all the difference.