The definition of bullying according to the stopbullying.gov website is “ unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose”.
What this definition does not capture is what it feels like as a parent or guardian to hear from a school representative that your child is being bullied or that your child is involved in bullying others. The lived experience of either of these situations is much more difficult to define.
October is bullying awareness month. The strategies of awareness campaigns in communities and schools are often targeted at education and prevention. These hopeful and important tactics are a powerful force against bullying in general. But what if you are one of those parents facing bullying now? What can you do if it has already happened or is an ongoing problem? The following are some tips and resources directed at parents in these situations.
- Recognize how you are feeling and what you are thinking. Whether your child is being bullied or is bullying others, strong internal responses are often present. Before reacting to your child or the school representative on the latest event, take a moment to write down what feelings you are having and any related thoughts. Getting it down on paper will give you time to decide how you want to proceed.
- How you talk to your child is important. Use language that does not label your child or other children. The stopbullying.gov website recommends discussing a bullying incident and using words like “the child that bullied” instead of “the bully” or “the child that was bullied” instead of “the victim”. When we label children, we can give the impression that behavior is inflexible. Also, give you child the opportunity to share how they were feeling and thinking before, during and after the incident. To listen without correcting them. Accepting how they were feeling and thinking can send the message that they are important no matter what role they had in the bullying incident. This does not mean that you have to accept the behavior. Use prompts like, “What could you have done differently?” or “What are our family values?” to keep the conversation about positive changes.
- Decide how you want to be involved. What healthy parent involvement looks like can vary depending on the circumstances of the bullying event and the age or ability of the child (or adolescent). Talk to your child and school representative about what your involvement could be.
- Seek support when you feel overwhelmed by a situation or on-going bullying. Support may include talking to a trusted friend, finding a parent support group, or seeking a professional counselor.
- Learn more about bullying at the following websites: http://www.stopbullying.gov/ ; www.apa.org/topics/bullying/ ; http://www.pacer.org/bullying/nbpm/
Alicia Skiles, Mental Health Practitioner