Another school year is right around the corner. While your kids may be excited about showing off their new clothes, making new friends and finishing homework (well, maybe not that last one), bullying in school is one thing they’re certainly not looking forward to.
To help you prepare if bullying in school becomes a concern for your child, we asked for some advice from one of our experts at Children’s, Crista W. Donewar, Ph.D., pediatric psychologist and training director in the Center for Pediatric Psychology.
Hopefully this conversation will provide you some useful advice on bullying.
Bullying in School Q&A
Q: If your child is being bullied in school, what are a few ways you can suggest they cope?
CWD: Work with your children ahead of time to give them strategies for dealing with bullies who target them or other children. Discuss ideas for what they could say to a bully, such as “stop calling me names.” Encourage your child to tell the bully to stop, then walk away. You can also ask them to role play what they might say to a bully, and encourage confident body language with good eye contact and firm responses. Also encourage your child to avoid situations where the bully might be, and encourage them to stick with groups of other children at school, especially during unstructured time (on the playground, in hallways, waiting for the bus).
Q: What are some ways that you can teach your child empathy, so they don’t become a bully or will stop bullying?
CWD: It is important to encourage your children to consider situations from different perspectives, and to model this yourself. Help them understand how a person’s feelings can get hurt when they feel left out or different. Praise them for treating others kindly and with sensitivity, especially when it may not be the easy choice. Encourage them to be a friend to all children, especially the ones who most need a friend. The core message should always be that BULLYING IS NOT OK.
Q: Should you encourage your child to hit back if someone hits them first?
CWD: No. Hitting back tends to escalate the issue, puts your child at greater risk and can get your child into trouble. School bullies want a reaction, and becoming visibly upset by hitting, or even crying, gives them that reaction. Your child’s best response is to stay calm and walk away.
Q: When should you involve the police?
CWD: Before calling the police, tap into the systems at school that are already available, such as teachers, counselors or principals. These people are in a position to make change. Put information to your child’s school in writing and document specific information about bullying incidents. If you speak to your child’s doctor or other professional about the situation, ask for a note to take to the school to highlight how concerning the situation is. You also may consider hiring an attorney who can advocate for your child, depending on the severity of the bullying situation.
Q: If nothing seems to help, is it better or worse to send your child to a different school? Does that teach them to run away from their problems, or does that teach them that it’s OK to leave unhealthy situations?
CWD: In severe, chronic cases of bullying, and after exhausting other options, changing schools due to bullying can be a helpful strategy. If school is not safe for your child, finding a new school does not send the message that it is OK to run away from problems, but lets them know that their safety is your first priority. For some children, changing schools may not fix the problem, so it is important to only do this when you have already worked extensively with the school to improve the bullying there.
Q: How do you know when the child being bullied at school or the bully needs professional help?
CWD: If the bullying is ongoing, from multiple kids or is particularly mean, it would be a good idea to get professional help. Regardless of the severity of the bullying, if it is causing significant distress to your child, seek professional help. Signs to watch out for include changes in mood, withdrawal, anxiety and refusal to go to school.
You should also seek professional help if you suspect your child might be bullying others. If your child has a pattern of being overtly negative to other children, or if the school tells you that there is a problem, then a psychologist or counselor could work with you and your child to address these problems.