Q: [School-Age] My son comes home often from school with stories of being bullied. What are the best steps to take?
A: Statistics show that one out of every four school children in the United States has been bullied. Prolonged and unchecked, bullying can contribute to depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems for the victim. In extreme cases, bullying can lead to thoughts of suicide.
Our parental instincts tell us to use whatever power we have to protect our offspring. But before you call a meeting of every teacher, parent and school administrator involved, use this opportunity to teach your child life skills.
Make a list with your child of problematic behaviors used by the bullies. Organize the list into three categories: Ignore, Confront, and Get Help. Things like name-calling or funny looks can be ignored with willpower. Actions like touching or other invasions of personal space can be confronted with a firm declaration of their boundaries (ex. “don’t touch my hair”). Potentially harmful behavior like pushing or hitting requires adult intervention.
Have your child make a list of people at school who will help if problems with bullies occur. Your child’s teacher, a counselor, or other favorite staff members will gladly be the on-site safe haven for your little one.
If attempts to stop the aggressive behaviors don’t work, it’s time to talk to school officials. Schedule a meeting with the school principal. Bring your child’s lists. This will help you come up with a strategy for confronting the issue.
What can your child do? Some simple self-defense techniques can help your child if confronted by bullies. Teasing has less effect on confident people, so speak to bullies in a calm yet strong voice. Clearly state your boundaries and ask that they be respected. If the conflict becomes physical, instruct your child to run away. If they can’t get away, make enough noise to attract the attention of others nearby. Most of all, tell them to never be afraid to get help. Shame and fear are powerful emotions verbally abusive bullies use to control their victims.
Deanna Cupo has a Masters degree in Social Work from Salisbury University. Currently, she is a therapist working in a school-based environment working with elementary school-aged children and their families.