- Kids will be kids and teasing is normal; they really don’t mean any harm.
- Just ignore it and it will go away.
- All you have to do is stand up for yourself.
Is this the kind of advice that you would give to your child if they reported being picked on at school? Sure, maybe the first time they were called a name, or the second time they were intentionally pushed to the back of the line in the cafeteria. But is this the approach you would take if your child was singled out in a mean and hurtful way day after day? Of course not!
And what about these phrases:
- You need to remember to use your words instead of your hands.
- Detention again? Why can’t you stay out of the principal’s office?
- Did you know the boy who tried to hurt himself because he was picked on?
- I wonder why she is missing so many days of school…she seems like such a sweet girl.
The thoughts and feelings underlying these comments and questions could be unrecognized signs that bullying is taking place. Bullying involves not only the victim, but also the one doing the bullying, and those who stand by and don’t take action. Even when it is not possible to protect the victim from a particular incident, there is no excuse for not taking a stand and taking action that will discourage or prevent bullying behavior from happening again.
What Should Parents Do?
Stop bullying before it starts.
Let everyone know (your child and his friends, school personnel, the bus driver, sports coach…everyone!) that you are on the prowl for signs of bullying and that you expect everyone else to do the same. Preventing and stopping bullying is a shared responsibility, and one that is not voluntary. Ask to see the school-wide no-bullying policy (if they don’t have one, insist that they create one!) and ask that the details regarding recognizing and reporting, consequences, and prevention activities be shared frequently with parents and faculty.
Use the word “bullying” with your child; make sure they know what it means.
They may not know that the hurtful behavior they are being forced to endure is wrong, mistaking it for “attention” or “acceptance” from peers. If your child is the one doing the bullying, help them to understand the negative impact it has on their status (which is often why they engage in bullying behavior in the first place). And if they are bystanders when bullying is taking place, help them to know what options they have—doing nothing not being one of them—without fear of being targeted themselves.
Help your child know what to do, and assure them that they will not get in trouble.
The perceived consequences of “tattling” could be keeping your child from sharing their bullying experiences. Help your child know the difference between “tattling” and “reporting an incident of bullying.” This is equally important for children who are being victimized, who are themselves the aggressor, or who are bystanders and not speaking up on behalf of those directly involved.
Know your rights and don’t be afraid to exercise them.
The U.S. government, under both education and civil rights law, recognizes that bullying and harassment are forms of discrimination. Include a goal about bullying in your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP); ask about bullying at every parent teacher conference; and if bullying issues are not properly addressed, be prepared to file a formal complaint with the Office of Civil Rights. None of these actions are excessive or inappropriate to ensure the safety and well-being of your child.
There are lots of topics about which children, parents and school personnel might disagree, but there should be no question that every individual deserves respect and that it is everyone’s responsibility to protect the physical and emotional wellbeing of every child, treating them as valued and respected members of the community.
- Bullies and Victims: Information for Parents (National Association of School Psychologists)
- Bullying Prevention: Tips for Teachers, Principals and Parents. (Edutopia)
- Tools for Teacher on Bullying (American Federation of Teachers)
- How parents, teachers, and kids can take action to prevent bullying (American Psychological Association)