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Helping your child

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Helping your child

It’s important to realize that bullying should be taken very seriously and dealt with.

If left unchecked, bullies get the message that adults find mean behavior acceptable and the problem may get worse and involve more kids. By creating open lines of communication and support networks at home and school, teachers, parents and students can work together to create a safer environment for all kids

Helping your child

If your child is the witness

The power of the witness
Bullying happens in front of others. Often kids who witness bullying may laugh or join in, even when they don’t want to. They want to fit in and naturally are afraid of becoming the next victim. But in reality, witnesses are extremely powerful. Most bullies love an audience. And when a witness stands up to a bully or makes it clear that they don’t like what is happening, bullying often stops in a few seconds. Being a hero can make all the difference.

If your child is the witness
Steps to take if your child is the witness, adapted from tips on the National Crime Prevention Council Web site:

Offer tips for how your child might handle the situation the next time it happens:

  • Don’t give the bully an audience. Walk away; this shows the bully that his mean behavior is not funny or okay.
  • Speak up. Tell the bully that what she is doing is wrong by saying, “That’s not funny,” or “Let’s get out of here,” or something similar. Kids can stand up for each other, and when one stands up, others may have more confidence to do the same.
  • Be a friend. Sometimes kids get picked on because they don’t have any friends or people to stand up for them. When kids befriend someone who is being bullied, the bully is less likely to keep bothering them. Friendship can also give kids more confidence to stand up for themselves
  • Ask others for help. When more kids stand up to bullies, the bully realizes that his actions are not okay.
  • Get an adult. Sometimes kids who are getting bullied think that if they ask an adult to help, the bullying will get worse. When other kids speak up, everyone is safer.

Talk to your child’s teacher or principal:

  • Bullying often happens when adults aren’t around. If your child tells you about a bullying incident, even if your child is not directly involved, the school should know. Left unchecked, the problem may get worse and any child could be next. When kids, parents, teachers and school administrators all work together to stop bullying, everyone benefits.
  • Check back periodically with your child and the school to make sure the problem is being resolved.

If your child is being bullied

Parents, teachers, and other adults who pay attention and react to signs of trouble; who create time and space for talking; who are actively engaged in children’s lives; and who help children to be confident and compassionate go a long way toward putting a stop to bullying.

Steps to take if your child is being bullied :

1. Focus on your child, be supportive, and get the facts.

  • Show your child you care. Tell him how bad you would feel if you were in a similar situation or share your own experiences with bullying
  • Tell your child that bullying is wrong, not her fault and that you are proud of her for having the courage to talk about it
  • Listen carefully and try to learn as much as possible about who was involved, exactly what happened and where. Find out if there were any children or adults who might have witnessed the bullying
  • Don’t be critical. If you disagree with how your child handled the situation, this is not the time to say so
  • Don’t say, “Just ignore it.” If a child could ignore it, he would have. If adults ignore bullying, it often becomes worse
  • Don’t say, “What did you do to aggravate the other child?” or the child will think you are blaming her for what happened
  • Don’t say, “Just hit him back.” Hitting another student probably won’t end the problem and it could get your child suspended or expelled or make the situation worse
  • Get your child’s input. Find out what he thinks needs to be done to make the bullying stop
  • Check your emotions. Your instinct to protect your child will naturally make you feel upset and angry. Before acting, take the time to calmly think through how you are going to respond
  • Assure your child that you will work together to deal with the problem. By talking to her about what you are going to do, she will feel less anxiety about the process

2. Offer suggestions to make your child feel safer right away. Make it clear that this is a short-term fix and that you will work toward solving the problem once and for all. Suggestions for your child:

  • Avoid the bully and buddy up with a friend on the bus, in the hallways, or wherever the bully is, and help a friend out in the same way
  • Smiling or laughing may make the situation worse, but not showing that you are angry or upset may make the bully lose interest. Try cooling down by counting to 10, taking deep breaths, or walking away
  • Firmly and clearly tell the bully to stop and then ignore her. Act uninterested or text someone on your cell phone; the bully may get bored and leave you alone
  • Tell an adult. Teachers, the principal, parents, and adults in the lunchroom can all help stop bullying
  • Talk about it. Parents, counselors, teachers, a sister or brother or a friend might have helpful suggestions and help you to feel less alone
  • Don’t bring what the bully wants. If he takes your lunch money, bring a sack lunch. If he tries to get your MP3 player, leave it at home

3. Contact your child’s teacher or principal.

  • You may feel reluctant to report bullying, but it may not stop without the help of other adults
  • While it may be tempting, don’t contact the parents of the student(s) who are bullying. In such an emotionally charged situation, it may make matters worse, with each parent siding with her own child
  • Check your emotions. Give school officials factual information about your child’s experience, including who, what, when, where, and how
  • Emphasize that you want to work with the staff at school to find a solution that stops the bullying, for your own child and for other children
  • Expect the bullying to stop. Keep talking to your child and the school staff to see if the bullying has stopped. If it continues, contact the teacher or principal again

4. Help your child cop.

  • Create a loving home environment where your child feels safe and can take shelter emotionally and physically. Make sure she knows that she can talk to you
  • Teach your child safety strategies. Let him know that it’s okay to ask an adult for help when he feels threatened by a bully. Talk about going for help and role-play what he might say; assure him that reporting a bully is not the same as tattling
  • Think about whether your child has difficulty learning or lacks social skills. A bully might be reacting out of annoyance, which doesn’t make bullying right, but may help explain why your child is being targeted. Consider talking to a counselor about getting help
  • Encourage your child to reach out to friendly students in his class. His teacher might have suggestions for which students might be good to spend time or collaborate with
  • Help your child expand her world. Suggest activities, sports, or classes that suit her interests and help to arrange them
  • A drama club, sports team, or art class after school or away from school can boost her confidence, give her new friends, and provide a fresh start

If your child is the bully

Adapted from a 2011 article on by Marlene Snyder, Ph.D., the following includes helpful tips on what to do if your child is the bully:

Pay close attention to your biases and actions.

  • Take the problem seriously. Resist a tendency to deny the problem or to discount the seriousness of it. Avoid denial thinking such as "Boys will be boys," or "Bullying is just a natural part of growing up."
  • Listen carefully and check out the facts. Do not believe everything your child tells you. Children who bully are good at manipulating adults and can be very artful at weaving a story that makes them look innocent.
  • The school or the victim's parents may be documenting reports of your child's bullying behaviors. It doesn't serve your child well to deny his involvement if there is evidence to the contrary. Check out the dates and the activities and determine if there is a pattern in his bullying behavior.
  • Explore the reasons for your child's negative behavior and think about family interactions. Find out more about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder, and consider whether your child’s actions might be part of a larger pattern. If you have concerns, contact your child’s pediatrician or seek out a counselor for your child and your family.

Hold your child responsible.

  • Don’t blame yourself. Hold your child responsible for his own choices.
  • Make it clear to your child that you take bullying seriously and that you will not tolerate such behavior in the future. Make it clear that you expect all bullying activities to stop immediately.
  • The issue of bullying should be monitored for some time through questioning your child and regularly contacting the school to determine if his bullying behavior has stopped.

Help your child change her behavior.

  • Enforce or develop a clear and simple system of family rules. Offer frequent praise and reinforcement and be calm, even-tempered, and consistent when enforcing the rules. Consequences might include the loss of privileges (e.g., television or computer game time)
  • Follow through with appropriate consequences for your child's actions; do not use physical punishment, as doing so will only reinforce your child's mistaken belief that it's acceptable to bully those who are weaker to get what he wants. If both you and the school are consistent in enforcing the rules related to bullying, the chances are better that he will change his behavior.
  • Spend more time with your child and monitor her activities closely. Find out who her friends are, where they spend their free time, and what they usually are doing. Is your child hanging out with the “wrong crowd”?; if so, limit her time with these friends and help her find better ways to spend her time with a more positive group of friends.
  • Build on your child's talents and strengths, and help him be less aggressive and more kindhearted.
  • Reward your child for positive, caring actions and for peaceful problem solving.

School bullying prevention programs

Schools are increasingly realizing that if a kid gets picked on, it’s not an isolated problem. Mean and humiliating behavior impacts the entire school, from an increase in poorly performing students to more discipline issues to the threat of school violence. That’s why more schools are implementing bullying prevention programs. In addition to making students feel safer, the programs are helping to create a healthier school environment overall.

Social and emotional learning

An associate research scientist and instructor at Yale, Marc Brackett is a longtime expert in emotional intelligence. He founded Intelligent Schools to help school systems through assessment, training, and leadership development. While support to each school is customized and looks different, the end result is focused on helping children understand, recognize, and manage how they express their feelings.

Brackett’s work focuses on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in school settings. SEL is a process for teaching children and adults to develop the skills they need to recognize and manage emotions, develop caring and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging situations constructively and ethically. They are the skills that allow children to calm themselves when angry, make friends, resolve conflicts respectfully, and make ethical and safe choices.

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