Parenting advice if your child is a repeated victim of bullying and the bullying intensifies. Why you must step in and how
It’s been ten years, but I am still haunted by the memory. I had just finished giving a keynote address on bullying to a large group of educators. A gentleman was quietly waiting by the stairs of the stage to speak with me.
As I approached the man, he silently handed me a picture of an adorable eleven-year old boy. With tears in his eyes, the man thanked me for my speech and explained that the photo was his son who had hung himself because he was bullied.
The father said he had to talk to me. He’d listened to my talk and said he knew that if people had only listened to what I said about bullying, his son would be alive today. He asked me to please keep warning parents of the horrific consequences. I promised that father I’d never give up, we hugged, and then he quietly walked away.
I’ve carried that child’s photo with me every day since. I’ve shared it with hundreds of parents and educators everywhere I speak. It’s my reminder that adults need to take bullying far more seriously.
We must tune into our children closer, listen and believe them, and then step in if necessary so a child does not have deal with cold-blooded cruel attacks alone.
And we better quicken our pace.
A recent study prepared for the American Psychological Association showed that 80 percent of middle school students admit to bullying behavior in the prior 30 days.
Research shows that todays bullies are more likely to be aggressive and could carry a weapon. So the outcome is potentially more serious if not deadly.
There is also another danger. The United States Secret Service studied over 30 school shootings. Could they develop a profile of a school shooter? The answer was no, but they did find a few commonalities:
Most school shooters had been bullied intensely by peers, and no adult ever intervened. Most school shooters also told someone their intentions, but few intervened. Bullied children often flip their roles to become bullies.
What If the Victim Is Your Child?
Bullying is almost always a repeated behavior. That means once a child is targeted she usually continues to be targeted. The base of bullying is always a relational problem. Most bullying happens face to face – not on the Internet. Most victims know their attackers.
If this is your child, you must intervene. A bullied child cannot solve this problem on her own, but needs a caring, competent adult on his or her side.
Here are first steps to take if your child is a victim:
Take your child seriously
Research finds that 49 percent of kids say they’ve been bullied at least once or twice during the school term but only 32 percent of their parents believed them. Listen to your child!
Next, you need all the facts so you can help your kid create a plan to stop it. “What happened?” “Who did this?” “Where were you?” “Who was there?” “Were you alone?” “Has it happened before?” “How often?” “How does it start?” “What didyou do?” “Do you think he’ll do it again?” “Did anyone help you?” “Did an adult see this?” Those facts will help you create a safety plan for your child based on where the bullying is taking place (and bullying usually happens at the same time and place!)
Offer a plan of action
Most kids can’t handle bullying on their own: they need your help, so provide a specific plan. For instance, if bullying is happening on the bus tell your child to sit on the right side across from the the bus driver so he can watch (the worse place to sit is near the back on the right hand side where the driver can’t see the passengers in the mirror). You could ask an older kid to “watch out” for your child, or offer to pick your child up from school.
Identity a trusting adult
Find an adult who can help your child when you’re not around. It must be someone who’ll take this seriously, protect your child, and, if necessary, keep this confidential. It could be a secretary, teacher, neighbor, school nurse, bus driver, or even the custodian—anyone your child trusts. Preteens are far less likely to seek help .This is also the time bullying can be most intense and the victim feels trapped and isolated.
Don’t make promises
You may have to protect your child, so make no promises to keep things confidential. “I want to make sure you don’t get hurt, so I can’t guarantee I won’t tell. Let’s see what we can do so this doesn’t happen again.”
Get professional help
Repeated bullying causes severe emotional harm and erode self-esteem. Some research shows that boys and girls generally are bullied differently: girls are more likely to be victims of emotional and verbal bullying while boys are usually bullied by physical harm or threat. (Of course, that depends on the situation, because bullying is always situational). But whether the bullying was verbal, physical or relational, the long-term effects are equally harmful.
Both boys and girls reported high levels of emotional distress and loneliness as well as lower self-esteem, loneliness, anxiety and depression. Seek the help of a trained mental health professional if you see such symptoms in your child.
I am an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books.
You can also refer to my daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Checkfor ongoing parenting solutions and late-breaking news about child development.
You can also find dozens more research-based and practical tips in my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. For more tips about reducing bullying refer to the specific chapters on Bullied, Bullying, Insensitive and Peer Pressure.
Parents don’t take bullying seriously: S. Ziegler and M. Rosenstein-Manner, Bullying at School: Toronto in an International Context (Toronto: Toronto Board of Education, 1999), p. 22.