“It’s in my job description as your mother to keep you safe,” is how one mother in a group of parents I’ve been working with explains why she does what she does. The question that plagues parents is: is my child safe when they aren’t with me?*
When a parent finds out that their child has been victimized by bullying, a myriad of emotions and questions arise:
- Why is this happening to my child?
- Has this happened more than once? If it has why didn’t they tell me sooner?
- Why hasn’t anyone at school done anything?
- What do I do?
There have been two stories in the news recently: one parent wiring his son to catch his teachers bullying him and another providing her son a stun gun to protect himself from bullies. Both sets of parents took what some would call extreme measures to protect their children. But how extreme are those measures?
We want our children safe. I empathize with these parents, goodness knows they probably exhausted other means before resigning their children to tape recordings and stun guns. No one wants to find out their child has been mistreated by another child (or worse, an adult) in school. The sense of helplessness a parent may feel once they find out their child has been bullied mirrors how their child feels being victimized. I hope some of the following tips will help any parent who finds themselves in need of advocating for their child’s safety.
- If your child comes to you and says they have been bullied, take a deep breath and express that you are relieved that your child let you know this is happening. Ask your child what has happened and for how long. Take in all the information your child gives you and try not to react. Children fear disappointing us and many kids who are victimized feel that in some way they did something wrong, otherwise they wouldn’t be bullied. The last thing we want a child who is being bullied to feel is blamed for the behavior once they disclose it to us.
- Mirror your child’s feelings and help them come up with ways to take care of themselves when they feel bullied. Help them identify what friends they could spend time with when they feel vulnerable. Identify teachers and other trusted adults in the school they could go to in school for more support. Let them know you should know when it happens as well.
- Speak with your child’s adviser or an administrator of your child’s school to inform them of what your child disclosed. Discuss with your child’s school staff what they think is the appropriate means to address the behavior. If you are unhappy with their response, work to develop a plan of action that you are satisfied with. Any and all options to keep your child safe should be on the table! If your child lets you know bullying happens during a specific class or period, suggest changing your child’s schedule.
- If your child continues to inform you of bullying, don’t be fearful to go back to the school and go up the ladder of administrators. While this can be frustrating, it’s a necessary step in order to ensure your child (and other children) are in a safe environment.
- Discuss this topic with other parents in your child’s school community. Rally the school’s parent organization and invite speakers to talk to the community about how to address this issue. Parents can be each other’s best support system! I find it vital that parents support a school’s efforts in making children’s lives bully free.
- Despite all of this, sometimes the bullying will not end. I would suggest this as a last resort, but consider changing schools if you child falls victim to relentless bullying. If you choose this option, stress to your child that you are changing their school for their safety, not because of anything they did. Some kids who have been bullied would welcome the change while other’s might resent it, feeling like they are loosing the support system the do have.
* I think this question lasts forever. I still get an occasional, “Be careful! I love you.” text message from my parents in their 70s!
Sad girl at school photo available from Shutterstock.