How to navigate this difficult subject.
Bullying is one of the ugly aspects of life. And when your child is hurt, it’s hard not to want to rush in to rescue her right away, but try to proceed by listening calmly and asking open-ended questions first, suggests Lynn J. Mandelbaum, a licensed clinical social worker who has been the Early Learning Counselor at The Galloway School in Buckhead for 15 years and was previously in clinical practice.
Understand what bullying is
A one-time incident or the social ups and downs that come with friendship aren’t necessarily bullying. “It’s important that parents are able to discern between a child going through a social problem at school and the ongoing, repeated and intentional behavior that is bullying,” says Mandelbaum, who cautions parents not to use the word “bully” too frequently or flippantly to diminish its true meaning. Know what you’re dealing with Bullying comes in physical, verbal, social and cyber forms, and depending on what you hear your child say, you might consider different responses. First, make sure your child is safe. For physical and cyberbullying, which is a crime, parents must step in quickly. “Usually there’s some kind of school code of conduct for online behavior. Kids often don’t understand how powerful online information is, and there can be legal consequences,” Mandelbaum says. It’s also important to know that your child might not tell you if they are being bullied. “Look out for any behavior change and telltale signs such as avoidance, change of basic habits like sleeping and eating or an unusual reluctance to go to school,” Mandelbaum says.
Inform the school appropriately
The first step in escalating awareness of the situation is to share what you’ve heard with the classroom teacher, who may be able to intervene easily. Next, contact the school counselor. If you don’t get any action after those attempts, move it up the food chain to the assistant principal and principal, Mandelbaum recommends. If the abuse is verbal or social, however, try to first empower your child to handle it on his or her own, and then find out how it’s going.
Arm your kid with info
Parents can offer strategies and even do rehearsals in advance. Mandelbaum suggests using the acronym S.A.F.E. to communicate ways to deal with being bullied: n S is for “say something,” such as “stop, don’t do that” to dissipate the behavior. n A is for “ask for help,” whether that’s from parents, a school counselor or a teacher. n F is for “find a friend,” as there is always strength in numbers. n E is for “exit the area.” Just get away from the situation. Regarding cyber interactions, make sure to educate kids on the concept of digital citizenship. “Remind kids that they are the same person online that they are in the world, and they are always a representative of themselves, their family and their school,” Mandelbaum says.
Teach empathy at every interval
What can you do if your child is— God forbid—the bully? The best strategy is to teach empathy on an ongoing basis. Parents can use media such as books, TV shows and movies to drive home this message. “Kids who are targeted are often perceived as different in some way. Explain to children that we all have differences and all have value. It’s a long process. Schools and families alike have to embrace opportunities to teach this,” Mandelbaum says. “From a young age, ask your child, ‘How do you think so-and-so felt in that situation?’ If your child doesn’t have the words to answer, you can supply them. ‘If I were in their shoes, I would be really frightened.’” Lastly, when a bullying issue is resolved, let it be resolved so your kid (and the other one) can move on.
Managing Editor and Wellness Columnist at Simply Buckhead. Blogger at Badass + Healthy.