Name-calling, cruel taunts, cyber bullying and physical bullying happen every day to kids across the country. When your child is being bullied, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else. All you want to do is make it stop immediately. My worst fears became a reality when I recently discovered my oldest daughter was being bullied at school.
It took me a little while to catch on. She would come home bursting into my office giving me a big hug and going on about what she learned in school. It wasn’t until her lunch was only half eaten, or sometimes never touched that I knew something was wrong.
She was being teased, and taking it to heart. This melts my heart. Wanting to do anything to make this stop, I scoured the Internet, picked up the phone and found dozens of experts who helped me learn to parent effectively in these difficult times. Here are nine things I learned, about handling bullying at school:
1. Listen to what your child has to say. I did this by taking walks with my daughter, and just playing Uno and other games she enjoys. Since we have five kids, I made sure we were alone…no cell phones, no distractions…giving us time to talk without interruptions.
2. If you were bullied as a child, try not to personalize what is happening. I was bullied in sixth grade, not third. I will never forget it and seeing my daughter with huge tears rolling down her cheeks did bring up the feelings I had while being bullied, but I didn’t let my own experience get in the way of helping my own daughter. This was very good advice.
3. Don’t retaliate against the bully or his family. As tempting as it might be to take matters it’s your own hands, do not do this. This is where I focused on problem solving instead. I took a deep breath and thought about what I could do to help my daughter handle what she was facing. I did meet my child’s bully (and his mother) while helping in the classroom, but I took the time to get to know them and found the mom to be a very nice person.
4. Coach your child on how to react. Since bullies tend to pick on people who they can get a reaction from, and choose kids who get upset and take the teasing to heart, I focused on teaching my daughter how to react. Similar to how I media train my clients, we practiced role-playing. We practiced how not to react and ways to get out of sticky situations. My daughter couldn’t stop the bullying right away so we taught her how to get away from it and who she could go to to talk about it.
5. Find a teacher or administrator at your child’s school who will help. It’s ultimately the schools responsibility to stop bullying. In fact, my daughter’s school has a zero tolerance policy. Our saving grace has been the guidance counselor along with her teacher and now the assistant principal who took steps immediately to at least separate my daughter from her bully and give her people to talk to.
6. Take your child’s side. Reassurance and support are the greatest gift to a child who is being bullied.
7. Get Support. I didn’t want my daughter missing class to be with the school guidance counselor all the time, so we decided to find a therapist outside of school to give my daughter additional support. I also met with her teacher for suggestions on which classmates would be good for my daughter to have over after school and on weekends. The school therapist also helped by providing a list of resources, which include a church group offering self-esteem and friendship classes.
8. Teach your child to name what’s happening. My daughter didn’t really understand what the word bully meant, but now she not only knows the name but the feelings that go along with it.
9. Find something your child is really good at doing. I will not go as far to say my daughter will be the next Michael Jordan. But signing her up for girls basketball has been a wonderful experience. When she makes a basket, her grin says it all. This is a true self-esteem builder for her, and something our whole family enjoys coming to see.
I’ve learned that no matter what I do, Bullying isn’t something a child is going to get over immediately. It can be long a process. The lesson for our daughter was that while she couldn’t stop people from saying bad things, she had some control over how she responds to it.
Some additional resources I found to be extremely helpful:
Debra Gano, a former model (she once graced the cover of Today’s Chicago Woman!) and actress who is the mother of an 11- year old daughter publishes BYOU “Be Your Own You” Magazine. A great magazine for girls ages 8-14 offering advice on bullying, friendships, popularity, body image, self-esteem and inner beauty.
Elisabeth Wilkins, editor of Empowering Parent, dealt with bullying when her son was 7 years old. She helps families deal with relationships and this website is very informative for parents.
My 9-year-old daughter really likes hearing music and watching the upbeat videos from Karlee Roberts, a 14-year-old with a powerful anti-bullying message. After being bullied in middle school, Karlee felt a need to express the overwhelming emotions inside her.
She wrote a poem to help her understand her feelings and then turned it into a song called Call Me Whatever (which is available on iTunes) about name-calling in hopes to relate to other kids her age because she realized it wasn’t just her who was being bullied. Her music video features her as seven different stereotypes, emphasizing that each one is special and not one of them are better than the other.