Children are often reluctant to tell their teacher or their parents that they are being harassed by a bully, for fear they will be further victimized by the bully for "tattling." But silence and inaction only allows bullying to thrive.

How to respond to bullying

If your child reveals that he or she is being harassed in the classroom or on the playground, here are some recommendations to help you formulate an appropriate response:

  1. Listen very carefully to your child’s description of the bullying event(s). Although revisiting the experience will likely be very upsetting for you and your child, it’s important that you remain calm. Your goal is to keep your child talking so you can learn as much as possible about the situation. Document serious offenses with a written description and take photographs of any wounds or damaged clothing or belongings.

  2. Reassure your child that the abuse is not their fault. Emphasize that the bully is the one who has the problem – not them. Let your son or daughter know that bullying is very common and that other children at his or her school are very likely being bullied as well. If the situation is sufficiently serious, reassure your child that you will take steps to protect them from being targeted again. If your child urges you not to take action, for fear of retaliation, gently but firmly explain that staying silent will only make it easy for the bully to continue targeting not only them, but others, too.

  3. Do not approach the bully’s parents about the issue directly. Your child’s teacher and school principal are responsible for your child’s ongoing well-being at school – they are the ones who need to take action. Politely but firmly insist that the school implement a plan that will address your child’s situation. Don’t give up until the issue is resolved.

  4. Try to determine what messages your child may have internalized as a result of the abuse they have suffered. No matter how frivolous and unfounded a verbal insult may seem to you, don’t assume that your child is able to shrug it off. The intense emotional impact of bullying is enormously successful in driving home false messages that erode self-confidence. For a child with already-fragile self-esteem, the results can be devastating. It’s not uncommon for a child to begin thinking, They're right – I'm worthless, or Maybe I really am a homosexual. Another dangerous message a bullied child may embrace is, I deserve it.

The longer a pattern of abuse has been established, the more difficult the pattern is to break. Consequently, your child may need ongoing support for quite some time. If you suspect your child has been deeply wounded, take deliberate steps to restore his or her sense of self-worth. Provide frequent affirmations of their value and their strengths. Find ways to lift your child’s spirit, perhaps by providing a special activity they can look forward to each week. For example, you could book a series of weekly laser tag games or hairstyling appointments and allow your child to invite a friend along, too.

Seek help!

Pay close attention to your child’s mood, and don’t hesitate to seek professional help if he or she seems to be growing increasingly anxious or despondent. Also, pray regularly – not just for the bullying situation, but also for the bully. Resentment and thoughts of retaliation are natural, but also harmful to your child’s spiritual development. Help your child find the freedom of forgiveness through the Holy Spirit. If you would like to discuss your child’s situation with a professional counsellor, don’t hesitate to call Focus on the Family Canada’s counselling staff at 1.800.661.9800.

Equipping your child to deal effectively with bullies is a good start, but it is only part of the solution. When it comes to bullying, not all schools are equal. Bullying prevention is most effective in schools that work hard to cultivate a climate of respect and personal responsibility – where children are taught how to step in and speak up against bullying whenever they see it. If your child is being bullied and the school authorities are dismissive of your concerns, you may need to consider moving your child to a school that takes bullying seriously. Or perhaps you can be instrumental in bringing an effective anti-bullying program to your school. In addition to helping your own child, your involvement to reduce bullying will help many other children as well.

Catherine Wilson is an associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2011 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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