There are Steps You Can Take
If your child is being bullied, it is a difficult and extremely painful experience. One of the biggest challenges is that even if you’d like to be, you can’t always be at your child’s side to protect them. And when our kids hurt, we hurt. We want our children to be happy and healthy, not doubting their self worth or questioning their safety.
Whether they’re at school or just looking at Snapchat on their phones, it can feel impossible to try and intervene or attempt to stop bullying behavior, but there are steps you can take to protect your child as much as possible.
Parents can intervene on both sides of the equation: advocating for your child with the school and equipping your child to manage the situation directly.
Listen and Validate
Regardless of your approach, the first thing to do is find out the details from your child’s perspective about what has happened with as many specific details as possible and document this carefully.
It’s important to let your child talk, and not just to hear them talk, but to listen, pay attention, and ask questions. Make sure to set aside a quiet time for you and your child to calmly talk about the events of the day. Set aside all distractions and allow time and space to connect with your child and find out what is going on. Be silent at times to quietly encourage your child to be more forthcoming. Be patient, as it may take a few conversations for you to get the whole picture. Your child will likely be swirling with emotions and feel ashamed, afraid, or embarrassed to talk to you about their experience and even worry it’s their fault.
Assure your child that this is not her fault and she deserves to feel safe and respected. Let her know that you are on her team. Make sure to keep your emotions in check with your child and allow your child the safety of expressing themselves. Your child may need to talk about the situation frequently and retell the stories about what has happened. This is a normal response to an overwhelming experience. Your child should know that you are ready and interested in talking about what is happening as many times as needed. Part of supportive listening is to say things like, “This was hard for you” and not offer solutions until your child feels completely heard and understood.
Teach Your Child How to Advocate for Themselves
Throughout their lives your child will experience difficult people and situations. By learning at a young age how to best handle conflict, they will have a confidence and skill set that will benefit them for life. I suggest doing this in small ways along the way so that when the big things happen, your child has developed some experience and confidence.
If the bullying is small and manageable, your child can learn to stand up to the bully by looking them in the eye and telling them what they are doing is wrong and to stop. But your child may not feel safe and comfortable doing so and therefore need adults to step in.
Advocate Directly with the School or Law Enforcement
If your child has been threatened or bullied outside of the school setting, a parent can advocate by contacting the police. If your child has been bullied within the school setting or online (school policy depending), a parent can advocate directly with school staff. Assemble the details you have about the incidents, dates, times, people involved and content of the interactions and create a coherent narrative of these events in a factual retelling as if you were narrating events as a detached observer. Obtain your school’s bullying policy and outline how you think this has been violated in the situation at hand. Contact the principal of your child’s school and schedule a meeting with the purpose of telling your child’s story and asking for assistance in how to move forward as a team to stop the bullying. As much as possible, speak factually sharing the incidents you have prepared and leave emotions to the side. Afterwards, send a note of thanks with a recap of what was agreed upon in the meeting from your perspective. Stay involved and connected with your child to see if the bullying stops and also keep open dialog with the principal. If the results of this are unsatisfactory, a parent can then file official charges with the school.
Get support for yourself
Parenting on the best days can be hard. Helping your child navigate bullying is an enormously emotional and difficult task. Your child needs you to be steady and solid so you need a lot of support away from your child to process your own emotions about what is happening. Getting support for yourself, and the emotions that are triggered can be one of the most supportive things you can do for your child. If you’d like to talk about what is going on with your child, you think getting support would be helpful, reach out. I’m here to listen and help.