Davidson Institute for Talent Development
This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Tom Letson, MA LPC NCC, a full-time New Jersey public school counselor and author of the internationally recognized bully reporting and information website, Bullystoppers.com. Find answers to such topics as deaing with your child's school, when/if to involve the police and when to involve the other parent when bullying is happening to your child.
First, reassure your child that the bullying/harassment is very wrong and you will not tolerate it. If you feel the situation is severe, the school should have the information even if your child is adamant that you not call. Soothe his anxieties by telling him:
- it is unlikely the problem will stop without adult involvement
- he has a right to attend school without fear.
- you will request the school handle the situation in a way that will not lead others to believe a parent called to complain.
Reassure your child that what is being said about him by the bully is not true. Try to build up his self-esteem by reviewing past successes and accomplishments. Consider enrolling your child in karate or other self-defense course to build self-confidence. Such programs stress mental discipline and self control, not violence.
Together with your child, review tips on bullystoppers.com for handling specific bullying/harassing situations. For chronic, long-standing problems, see our section below on involving the police department.
How should the school be handling the situation?
School staff should investigate the situation immediately to gather pertinent facts. They should then inform you about how severe the situation is and what they plan to do about it. School staff should never have a joint meeting with your child and the bullying/harassing child – this will be very embarrassing for your child. Also, a peer mediation meeting (when trained student mediators help peers solve conflicts) is not recommended because there is nothing to mediate or negotiate – the bullying and harassing is wrong, period. If your child and the bullying/harassing child have been friends in the past, however, and the situation appears to be more of a dispute which needs conflict resolution, a joint meeting with a trained school staff member may be helpful.
Look out for what is termed "blaming the victim." Example: your child is getting bullied on the bus and instead of moving the perpetrator’s seat, your child’s seat is moved instead. It is important to voice your displeasure regarding such practices.
In chronic bullying situations, schools can consider several options including but not limited to: changing the bully/teaser’s school schedule as not to conflict with your child’s schedule; moving the bully/teasers seat at lunch or on the bus or assigning the bully/teaser another bus; removing the bully/teaser from sport teams or clubs; suspending the bully/teaser from attending school functions.
Should I call the other child's parents to resolve the situation?
Generally, this is not a suggested strategy unless you know the other parents and expect an objective ear. Some parents may naturally come to the defense of their child and may have a difficult time believing their child is engaging in this type of behavior. Informing the other child's parents may also be embarrassing for your child. Parents of children who bully and harass others may be more receptive when this news comes from an objective party like a school counselor or principal.
We told our child to defend himself. Is this OK?
Although no one should be told they cannot protect themselves in self-defense when necessary, it’s important to understand that fighting back may cause other problems for your child including school suspension.
Many children are not comfortable with physical violence.
Some boys face a special problem when told to fight back . Society tells them that to be considered a "real man" they have to be able to use their fists when necessary. Boys who are uncomfortable with fighting may have feelings of shame due to this misconception. The shame is especially damaging if Dad is only giving his son one option to solve the problem: fight. Be sure to explain to your child the difference between situations which may require self-defense and those in which physical violence can be avoided.
When should the police be involved and how do I proceed?
Consider involving the police immediately if another child has physically assaulted your child or is seriously threatening him with bodily injury. To sign a complaint against a juvenile, call your local police department to get the necessary information. You may also want to consider signing harassment complaints against juveniles who continue to harass your child despite numerous attempts by you and/or the school to get them to stop. Ask the school to keep a written record of all offenses committed against you child in the event the police may need to access the information for future complaints.
How can counseling help my child?
Counseling can be very helpful for children who are victims of bullying and/or harassment.
- Children are taught avoidance and assertiveness skills to begin to effectively deal with problem children.
- Children also taught specific social skills to decrease the negative attention they may be drawing to themselves in social situations.
- Self-esteem and confidence building are also a part of a treatment plan designed to insulate a child’s psyche from bullying and harassment.
For online contact information on counselors and therapists in your area, go to www.athealth.com or a similar online mental health directory.
Will a letter to my child’s Principal help?
Written correspondence to your child's principal requesting investigation and intervention in a bullying situation can be a valuable tool. Letters should not be used to communicate threats of lawsuits, etc. Letters serve as a concrete reminder to school administration that a matter needs to be addressed to remain in compliance with State Laws. Send all letters via certified mail and save all copies for future reference if needed. For a sample letter visit www.bullystoppers.com
A letter should contain references to definitions of bullying appearing in various state laws to motivate schools to take action. It should also provide the school with suggestions on how to handle the situation so the child victim is not embarrassed further and is less likely to be subject to reprisal by bullies.
How do I help real little kids with bullying?
Kids are going to be kids. At age 7, many kids are impulsively selfish and are still immature at empathy - adults need to help them (especially if their parents are lagging behind a little in this area). If you want to help both your son and this other little guy consider one of the following:
- Have a matter of fact conversation about his behavior with his parents. Most parents are receptive to this and understand kids make mistakes - especially at 7! or
- Have a matter of fact conversation with the child when he is over your house. What do you say that won't get is parent's upset: Hey Johnny, I heard you say some pretty mean things about Sammy. Why do you do that? Don't you know it makes him feel very bad inside? Do you like to feel bad inside? I didn't think so and guess what? Either does Sammy. Now I know your mommy and daddy do not let you talk that way to others and I bet they would be very upset if they found out, don't you think? I thought so. Tell you what. I won't say anything to them this time but if this ever happens again, I will have to tell them and also I won't let you play over here again? Ok? Thank you for listening so well!
If it were me I would try the latter first and monitor the situation. Kids need adult intervention! Good Luck!