Helping Parents of Bullied Students
As educators, you probably frequently have parents contact you because their child is being bullied. How might you respond to parents' concerns?
First, you should assure them that you will immediately investigate their child's situation. Then, you should discuss what might help their child be safe from bullying while you investigate. For example, perhaps the child needs to avoid certain areas on school property at certain times. Or perhaps your school can increase supervision in the high-risk areas where the child has to go or more closely monitor the child's interactions with other students. Additionally, you might suggest that the child talk to an adult, such as a supportive teacher, every day to provide an update on the mistreatment. These steps will communicate to parents that you take bullying seriously and care about their child.
You may also give parents the following suggestions. An explanation of these and additional suggestions are presented in the book Protect Your Child from Bullying.
Tips for Parents
Here are some steps parents can take and information to help a child who is being bullied.
- For a behavior to be labeled bullying, it has to be persistent (repeated over time) and intentionally designed to hurt or frighten your child. Also, the bully must have power and control over your child.
- Let your child know that no one deserves to be bullied.
- Stay calm.
- Be sensitive to the fact that your child may feel embarrassed and ashamed.
- Find out what happened, who was involved, and when and where it happened, and keep a log of this information.
- Express confidence that you, the adults at school, and your child will be able to find a solution.
- Ask your child to write down in a journal or notebook her thoughts and feelings about what happened.
- Explain that bullies seek to hurt and control. So your child must not let them know he is hurt by their behavior.
- Let your child know that it is normal to feel hurt, fear, and anger.
- Avoid being a "fix-it" dad or mom by calling the bully's parents. Most of the time, this action is not effective. However, not all parents of bullies respond in a protective manner.
- Don't tell your child to retaliate. It's against the rules, and retaliation frequently makes the bullying worse and more prolonged. Additionally, bullies are often more powerful than their victims.
- Don't tell your child to ignore the bully. Most of the time, ignoring doesn't work.
- Teach your child to be assertive, but not aggressive.
- Don't promise that you will not tell anyone.
- Ask for a copy of the district's antibullying policy.
- Report all physical assaults to the school and to police.
- Take pictures of all injuries and hold a ruler next to the injuries to show their sizes. Keep a record of all medical treatment, including counseling, and all medical expenses and related travel expenses.
- Be patient. Some situations take more time to investigate and stop than others.
- Involve your child in activities inside and outside school. Involvement in activities she enjoys increases the chances of high-quality friendships.
- Monitor your child's whereabouts and his friendships.
- Involve your child in discovering solutions to her bullying situation.
- Watch for signs of depression and anxiety in your child, and do not hesitate to seek professional counseling.
- Ask an older student with good morals to mentor your child.
- Don't give up.
Victim Warning Signs
These are some of the warning signs victims of bullying might display.
- Sudden decreased interest in school (wants to stay home)
- Sudden loss of interest in favorite school activities (e.g., band, swim team, basketball team)
- Sudden decrease in quality of school work
- Wants the parent to take her to school instead of riding the bus
- Seems happy on weekends, but unhappy, preoccupied, or tense on Sundays
- Suddenly prefers the company of adults
- Frequent illnesses such as headaches and stomachaches
- Sleep issues such as nightmares and insomnia
- Comes home with unexplained scratches, bruises, and torn clothing
- Talks about avoiding certain areas of the school or neighborhood
- Suddenly becomes moody, irritable, or angry and starts bullying others (e.g., siblings, children in neighborhood)
- Seeks the wrong friends in the wrong places (e.g., drug users, cult, hate group, gang)
- Talks about being sad, anxious, depressed, or having panic attacks
- Wants to stay home at night
- Wants to stay home on weekends
- Talks about suicide
These tips can help parents understand the problems their children may face when harassed at school. Parents and educators need to stay vigilant, look for these warning signs, and attempt to address problems quickly. Students deserve to feel safe at school; parents and other adults can help students who suffer at the hands of bullies.
Allan L. Beane is founder and CEO of Bully Free Systems, LLC. Schools and districts throughout the United States have adopted his program (The Bully Free Program), books, and resources. Michelle Law is a special education teacher in Woodward, Okla., and the coordinator of the Bully Free Program at Cedar Heights Elementary.
ASCD Express, Vol. 6, No. 13. Copyright 2011 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.