Educators have long been implementing prevention strategies in one form or another to deal with school bullying. Anti-bullying practices have progressed from the strictly punitive measures used decades ago, to today’s zero-tolerance policies carried out through recognition, accountability, education and mediation.
But with the introduction of mobile phones and social media, cyberbullying has become as much of a concern as school bullying, with the effects weighing heavily and inescapably on the shoulders of young children and teens.
As bullying crosses schoolyard boundaries and spills into homes, a different approach is needed. How can parents and families support their children in order to stop bullying? And what can parents do if their child is accused of bullying others?
Try not to react with anger or excessive emotion
When you discover your child is being bullied you may feel angry and hurt. Of course you want to defend your child, deal with the bully and make the bullying behaviour stop. You may even feel like seeking retribution! As understandable as it is, showing anger or distress is not the right strategy.
The first step is to understand the situation fully. Sit down and listen to your child. Be open minded, be an attentive and supportive listener, resist the urge to react with strong emotions, and aim to empathise with the struggle your child is facing.
By reacting strongly you may discourage your child from communicating freely as they don’t want to upset you. Maintain a calm and accepting manner so that they continue to feel comfortable talking to you about their experience.
Be careful about attributing blame to your child
There is never a justification for bullying behaviour, and your child needs to know that you are firmly on their side. From the outset you need to resist the temptation to suggest that your child could have done things differently, or has somehow contributed to the situation.
There will be a time later when you can reflect on the different ways your child could have handled the incident, but in the beginning your child needs to feel believed and unconditionally supported.
Call on your support network
This is a time to call for family support, both for you and your child.
Have a family meeting and discuss as a family what is happening. In this situation provide the opportunity for your child to speak about their experience themselves, while you provide support and affirmation.
Speaking to your child’s teachers, school counsellor, principal, and family friends may also help.
Some helpful strategies
When your child feels accepted and believed, then you can discuss ways to deal with the bullying. Strategies might include:
Bullying behaviours are generally fuelled by reactions so avoiding the places where bullying occurs can help to minimise it.
Blocking on social media, occupying different spaces at school, and having pre-determined safe places to escape to can all help.
Hard as it is, ignoring hurtful comments both in person and on social media can help to prevent further bullying.
Encourage your child not to react or engage during bullying incidents, but to share their feelings with you and other supportive family members.
- Responding calmly
As an alternative to avoidance and non-engagement, standing up to bullies with clear, calm statements may help to empower your child and diminish the bullying behaviours.
If your child has the confidence, simply saying ‘it is not ok for you to speak to me like that’ is a powerful way to respond to a bully before disengaging.
Have a plan in place with your child’s school and teachers so that your child has their backing when they stand up for themselves.
- Find ways to rebuild their self esteem
Explore opportunities for your child to engage in activities which help to build their self-esteem by making them feel good and happy within themselves.
Work together – Family counselling
The person your child wants most in their camp is YOU. While professional counselling can help, engaging in family therapy to discuss how your child is feeling and working through potential strategies as a team is the best solution for you and your child.
Relational Minds clinicians partner with parents to help their children navigate this tricky problem.
Ways to help your child accused of bullying
No parent wants to be told their child is accused of bullying others. When that happens, you may go through a range of difficult emotions including feelings of shame or disappointment.
It is important not to react angrily when talking to your child about bullying. Maintain a calm and accepting attitude, focussed on positive and meaningful communication to understand why this has happened, and:
- Don’t react with anger, blame or other emotions.
- Have a discussion about treating others with respect, and that bullying behaviour is not acceptable and will always have consequences. Always balance discussions about discipline with empathy and care.
- Listen to your child and ask open questions such as ‘I’d like to know what happened, can you tell me?’ Or ‘what were you feeling that made you act in that way?’
- Support your child by saying, ‘I know you’re a good person, you’re not a bully inside. Let’s understand what happened to make you act in this way.’
- Consider whether there may be other factors or stresses in the family that might be influencing your child’s behaviour.
Engaging the assistance of Relational Minds clinicians and family therapists is a way to gain the knowledge and tools needed for positive family relationships. Together we can help families to work as a supportive unit, providing parents and caregivers with the skills needed to help their children form healthy relationships with peers.