What To Do If Your Child Is Bullied

This is Bullying Prevention Awareness month. It’s a topic our family knows about – now.

Our family was fortunate. Once people at our son’s school knew about it, they jumped right on the situation and it was resolved. But before our son reported it to them, he told us, his parents. But we gave him the wrong advice – because we didn’t know what to label it! We weren’t sure if what he was going through was actually bullying. Sure, the kid was bothering him. He was teasing him. The boy (they were in seventh grade) was making him frustrated and mad every single day. But the boy wasn’t beating him up, wasn’t laying a finger on our son, so we assumed he was just being irritating, immature.

We told our son to ignore him, avoid him and he’d get tired of picking on you.

We were wrong. It actually got worse. The bully knew our son’s emotional weaknesses and preyed on them. He doubled down on the taunting and teasing. He started stealing his lunch card and giving him small shoves in the lunch line. Of course, no one in authority ever saw him do it. He was too smart for that.

Our son, who had always liked going to school, started dreading it. And finally we reported what was going on, and school administrators got actively involved.

I felt a lot of guilt over that. Our child came to us for help. He suffered longer than he should have because his parents failed him. We should have known better, right? I asked local psychologist Martin Johnson.

“I believe it is a common mistake that parents make to advise their kids to ignore bullies and hope that the lack of response will cause the bully to go pick on someone else,” he says. “Parents do this for many reasons: concern that if their child speaks up they will just antagonize the bully and make things worse, the desire to not make ‘stink,’ and sometimes simply feeling unsure what else to do.”

Martin said parents need to know they will be heard. Times and attitudes have changed dramatically in one generation, and “in most, hopefully all schools, bullying is taken seriously by teachers and administrators … when it is reported.

“If your child tells you that she is being bullied, it is important to take her concerns seriously and thank her for telling you.

“I recommend taking your child and sitting with them while they tell their story to the teacher and/or school administrator. It may be difficult, but it is important for your child to be empowered to speak their truth, and to be understood and supported by parents, teachers and administrators.”

Even after you report the bullying, your job as a parent isn’t done. Follow-up is key, Martin says, to make sure teachers and administrators are following through, “and taking concrete steps to assure your child’s safety.

“I’ve been told by more than one school official that parental follow-up is important. One teacher put it in old-fashioned terms, ‘The squeaky wheel gets the grease!’

“Speaking up for your child may be uncomfortable. The teacher may not want to believe that bullying is happening in his classroom. The bully might be the child of a friend. We might have our own issues about being assertive in public.

But if it’s difficult for us, imagine how hard it is for the child to stand up for themselves and maintain a sense of dignity and self-respect while being bullied, especially if no one stands with them.”

My husband and I can’t turn back time and redeem our initial handling of the situation. But at least we finally did the right thing, and all ended well.

If you take anything away from our situation, I hope it’s this: Repeated harassment is bullying, no matter the form it takes. It could be on the playground, in the lunch line, on the Internet, it could be mental or physical.

In any form, bullying hurts your child and it doesn’t disappear on its own. Taking action is always better than trying to ignore the problem away.