“Do you have any suggestions for me to share with a parent on how to help her child deal with a bully in school?” asked Mary, a grandmother and teacher.
Bullying seems to be getting a lot of media time recently. Many schools and other organizations are creating programs to try to combat these mean-spirited behaviors.
Let’s define what is bullying behavior. Bullying can be physical, verbal or excluding behaviors that include but are not limited to hitting, kicking, pushing, choking, punching, threatening, teasing, starting rumors, hate speech and telling other children not to play with others, or not to be their friend. Bullying is behavior whose intent is to inflict harm.
How to deal with bullying depends on a lot of factors: a child’s age, type of school the child attends, gender of the bully and the bullied, and parent/parent relationships and school/parent relationships. After a bullying incident, a child needs to feel safe and empowered as quickly as possible.
The older the child, and more so if the child is a boy, the more the child will not want parents to interfere with the bully in fears, often justified, that threatening behaviors will increase.
Boys are usually physical in their bullying.
Girls are likely to be verbal in their bullying.
At our first of the year meeting I told parents, “People say that teachers have eyes in the back of their heads. We don’t. We can’t see everything that is happening and we depend on our students’ parents to let us know when something is going on that needs to be addressed. Parents are the eyes in the back of our heads.”
Dealing effectively with bullying and other threatening behavior at school has to be a school-wide effort, with training programs for staff and students, and effective communication among children, parents and staff.
To counteract behaviors whose intent is to inflict harm, either physically or verbally, parents should do three things almost simultaneously:
- Communicate to your child that being bullied is wrong and the bully needs to be stopped. Ask your child: If we saw someone hurting a person on the street what would we do? Try to elicit responses such as help the other person and call the police for help. Explain that the job of adults is to help children feel safe. Ask how you can help your child feel safe. Ask how your child’s teacher and principal can help your child feel safe. Explain to your child the following process you are going to use to protect him or her, which will also help all the children at school.
- Contact your child’s teacher and explain the situation. Give the teacher the bullies’ names, along with when and where the incidents have occurred. Ask if the school has an anti-bully policy and program. Mention that you will be contacting the school principal about the incidents as a matter of due process, and will follow up with a note about your conversation. Remember the words of Sgt. Joe Friday, “Just the facts, ma’am.”
- Visit with the school principal. Again, explain the situation, giving pertinent information about the bullying incidents. Ask about the anti-bullying policy and training programs. If there are none, request that a school-wide policy be instituted. Ask the principal how they would like for your child to handle the bullying incidents, and how the school will handle incidents. The principal should have a plan to contact and counsel the bully and his or her parents, and a method to keep your child safe at school. Again, follow up your conversation with a letter.
Too many times adults do not protect children from bullying behaviors.
By having clear expectations for behavior with well-defined and enforced consequences for hurtful actions, we can help. Children need to know if they go to an adult for assistance that they will be protected from retaliation. The child with aggressive behavior needs to know the effects of continued bullying. As adults, we must enforce those consequences.
The Boy Scout Oath says a lot about how to assist our children in protecting themselves from bullying behavior, and guiding ruffians:
Scout Oath (or Promise)
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.
By modeling being physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight, we can help our all our children, no matter their behaviors, to do their best and become compassionate, understanding and kind individuals.
Note: You may want to read this article also:
A reader wrote:
We had a parent last year that was constantly reporting to the principal that her child was being bullied. During class and at recess, for several weeks, we watched this student very closely. Other than an occasional, normal scuffle while playing soccer with other boys, there was not a single incident of bullying TO this child. We did note on a few occasions that this child would pick on other students both at recess and in the classroom. Finally the mom quit saying it was an ongoing issue and the principal finally got it out of her that there had been one major incident of the student feeling unsafe at recess. (Which according to the other student was started by this boy teasing him.)
So, with all the hype around bullying right now, how can we help teach parents (and educators and students) what actually IS bullying. When does “teasing” become bullying? When does the normal, occasional scuffles/conflicts/misunderstandings turn into bullying?
I’m afraid your article matches the hype of the media and, instead of leading parents to a clear assessment of a situation, encourages them to jump into action too quickly.
Thanks for listening.
Thanks for writing. I truly appreciate it.
It’s hard to communicate all that I’d like in a 500 word article and it’s good to know what I missed.
Usually by the time a child comes to a parent about being bullied (which I should have defined in the article and I see as any behavior whose intent is to harm physically or verbally. I think I will add a definition.) research shows that there have been ten incidents on average.
So by the time a child tells us there is a problem, the child is in deep distress.
In the first step I tell parents to ask their child two basic questions:
How can we as parents help you feel safe?
How can your teacher and principal help you feel safe?
Those two questions give parents a lot of information.
Another issue that I didn’t address is that, in general, in our society we don’t teach conflict resolution and problem solving skills to children or adults.
When we ask at school if the school has an anti-bullying policy and program, what that really means is this: Does the school teach conflict resolution and problem solving skills to children and staff members.
One well-known study on bullying, Craig and Pepler’s playground observation research, found that one incident of bullying occurred every seven minutes. Adult intervention occurred in 4% of the incidents, and peer intervention occurred 11% of the time.
As a school administrator and as a teacher I wanted to know from the parents if a child was feeling unsafe for whatever reasons.
I advocate teaching conflict resolution and problems solving skills to children as young as 2.5 years old. Those skills empower children to protect themselves and others to get to win/win resolutions.
There is another Kids Talk article about bullying here that talks a bit more about that:
And sometimes when we see a child complain about being bullied etc., when in fact the child is the one with the bullying behavior, the complaint may be a plea for help. The child is telling us, “I have these aggressive behaviors but I don’t know anything else to do. Help me!”
My workshop, Problem Solving Tools To Use With Children, shows three problem solving tools to not only use with children, but to teach children. And these tools work with adults, too.
If the mom with the bullying son had sat down with the principal and used five-step problem solving (a tool that I teach in this workshop) the complaints of bullying probably would have been short-lived.
A Kids Talk article about five-step problem solving:
It is an issue of our time. We over-protect our children on one hand, and we under-protect them when we don’t give them the skills they need to navigate the social world.
I hope I’ve been able to clarify some points.
Good points Maren and the reader who responded.
Also important is that with the 3-6 year olds, “bullying” behavior isn’t intended to actually hurt someone, it is intended to get the other child to play with them or give them attention in some way.
In other words, it is done out of a huge need for friendship and belonging when a child has low social skills, low problem solving skills, low tolerance for frustration, and, often, lacks ability to read social cues.
While they might hurt another child, that’s really not their intention.
Addressing this is fundamental to the discussion and solution about bullying.
Thank you. So well said.
The child under the age of seven is learning social skills and as adults we guide as we see the child need help.
For the child over the age of six when we see bullying behaviors, we need to step up and systematically teach the social skills that the child might lack.
At age seven it is obvious what social skills the child should have learned from ages 3 to 6 were not acquired. It is a disservice to the child not to address this now urgent need for social skills.