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What to Do When Your Child Is Being Bullied

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October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and Babble is partnering with PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center to help parents better understand and navigate the needs of children who are experiencing bullying. It starts with recognizing the signs of bullying and knowing how to respond.

It began with complaints of a stomachache, followed by headaches and sore throats and other excuses about not feeling well. Although Amy wasn’t sure why, before long it became obvious that her 10-year-old daughter, Sarah, did not want to go to school. This behavior was such a departure from the norm for the happy, energetic child who had always been so enthusiastic about school. After several days of questioning, Sarah finally confided in her mother that she was being bullied.

Every day on the school bus, three older girls were picking on Sarah. She said it began with taunting about her weight, her glasses, and her brother, who uses a wheelchair. It soon escalated to taking her things, telling other kids not to let Sarah sit with them, and telling her she was worthless and a “loser.” Amy was heartbroken. No wonder the child didn’t want to get on the school bus. Amy held her daughter tightly as they sat on the edge of the bed and wept. For the first time, Amy understood the impact bullying can have on a child.

This year, 13 million children in America will be bullied. Research shows that children who are bullied are more likely to develop depression and anxiety disorders, and the lasting effects can be heartbreaking. Bullying is a serious community issue that impacts education, physical and emotional health, and the safety and well-being of students.

It can be challenging to identify what is and isn’t bullying, but here’s a simple way to define it for your children: If the behavior hurts or harms them, either emotionally or physically, and they have a hard time defending themselves, it is bullying.

After consoling her daughter, Amy’s emotions quickly turned to anger. She was furious at the girls who were making her daughter’s life miserable. She was mad that the school bus driver had done nothing to stop the behavior. Amy was especially upset when Sarah told her she had confided in her teacher and that she was still being bullied.

What would you do if Sarah was your child? How would you respond once she told you what was happening? Here are the most important steps you can take if your child is the target of bullying:

1. Listen to your child and believe what they are telling you

It isn’t easy for a child to talk about a bullying situation, especially when they are the target, but you need to listen to your child’s story and believe it. Your first response might be an emotional one, but to be an effective advocate for your child you need to react in a way that encourages him or her to trust.

2. Be patient and supportive

It can take time for kids to open up about the situation. They might feel insecure, withdrawn, frightened, or ashamed, and they might fear retaliation. Try to avoid making negative comments about the students who are doing the bullying. Make sure your child knows the bullying situation isn’t his fault, and that no child deserves to be bullied.

3. Provide information

It’s important to educate yourself about bullying so that you know how to respond, and it’s vital to educate your child in ways that he can understand. Children need to know that they are not alone, and there are caring adults who will help them resolve the situation.

4. Explore strategies to intervene

Once you learn about the bullying, there are many ways you may want to react, but some of the first responses that come to mind may not be good choices. Negative tactics ­— such as confronting the students involved, telling your child to ignore the situation, or encouraging retaliation — are not likely to be effective and may lead to further harm. Instead, talk with your child’s teacher and ask what can be done about the situation. Meet with the principal and make it clear the impact bullying is having on your child’s life and education. Ask if the school has a bullying policy and what the administration can do to help your child be safe.

Children need to know that it is not their responsibility to change what is happening to them — it is up to the adults to take action. Bullying happens far too often, but that never makes it right. Every child deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and your child needs to know that you will do everything you can to help.

Has your child been the target of bullying? What did you do to deal with the situation and keep your child safe? Please share your stories and ideas to help other parents. If you need help with a bullying situation, or you want to help prevent bullying in your community, visit PACER.org/bullying.

 

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