Nothing brings out the mama (or papa) bear in parents quite like learning someone has been hurting your child. In an instant, all reason goes out the window and we become determined to do whatever it might take to protect our little cub.
That instinct is exactly why most parents who learn their child is being bullied have to initially resist the urge to go out and bully the little jerk that is hurting their child right back.
Having that urge is normal. But obviously, acting on it isn’t an option.
So what can you do?
According the to the US Department of Education, 1 in 3 students will experience bullying over the course of any given school year. This is common. It is happening everywhere. But that doesn’t make the news that your child is being bullied any easier to swallow.
A lot of kids won’t come directly to their parents when they are being bullied. They are too afraid of retaliation if the bully were to find out they told. So for many parents, this news may come from a school administrator or some other third party who has witnessed the bullying.
It may also come about as the result of little signs that lead a parent to suspect something might be going on; bruises, a child’s sudden refusal to go to school, or even overheard conversations that indicate victimization. KidsHelath.org identifies the following as potential signs of bullying:
- Your child acting different or seeming anxious
- Not eating or sleeping well
- Giving up on activities they’ve previously enjoyed
- Avoiding situations that should otherwise be a routine part of their day
The pieces of the puzzle might not come together all at once. But when they do, listening to that mama or papa bear instinct to jump to action is perfectly acceptable.
So long as you do so in a way that will actually help.
First, you need to do what you can to get your child to open up. You can’t help him or her until you know the full details. Ideally, you want to be documenting those details—though don’t make the mistake of pulling out a pen and pad of paper during your first conversation. Your initial priority needs to be making sure your child knows you are there for him or her, that you want to listen and provide the shoulder to cry on they might need.
Once you know the details, Stomp Out Bullying recommends contacting the school if the bullying is taking place during school hours, or the police if it is taking place elsewhere. A meeting will hopefully be set up to address your concerns, and you should attend with a bulleted outline of what has been going on. Do your best to stick to the facts, leaving your emotions out of the conversation.
Obviously, that can be incredible difficult to do—it’s only natural to be fired up in a situation like this. But you need to be your child’s advocate right now, which means keeping your cool and appealing to the authority figures whose help you will need to address this situation.
You want to follow up after these initial meetings, to find out what is being done and to keep track of whether or not it is helping. There are legal steps you can, and should, take if the bullying doesn’t end.
It might also be a good idea to get your child into counseling, so that he or she can learn coping skills for dealing with the bullying they have faced, but also so that they can better learn how to communicate to you what they are feeling and experiencing.
Instances of bullying can vary greatly in terms of severity, and not all situations are created equal. Some might require involving law enforcement officials sooner, and you may even be tempted to help your child switch schools.
Ultimately, you know your child and what he or she can handle better than anyone. But when in doubt, consult a mental health professional or school counselor who might be able to help you assess the situation from an outsider’s perspective and determine the best steps to take.
There is nothing easy about knowing your child is being bullied. But you can continue to be the source of support and comfort they need when they are home. Don’t discount the value of being their safe place to land.