What To Do When Your Children Have Been Bullied At School

What's Covered

Introduction

In a universal list of things parents should protect their child(ren) from, I bet bullying would rank in the ‘top 10’. Kids who get bullied feel less self-esteem[1] even beyond childhood. A survey published by Statista-Research-Department showed that about 56% of adults who were bullied during their childhoods stated that the experience had serious and extended impacts on them. In equipping a child to face life head-on, parents need to nip mitigating factors like bullying right-in-the-bud.

What is bullying and what does it entail?

If you are going to fight a battle and win, one of the first things you would do is to know who you are fighting against. It works in the same way in this case. If you are going to protect your child from bullies at school, then there is a need to understand what bullying really is and in what forms it comes. I define bullying as hostile actions, recurring overtime that is deliberately destructive and occurs without provocation.[2] It is the use of power and aggression to cause distress and control another.[3] Basically, it happens when a person (a school/classmate in this case) feels he/she has more power, in whatever way, than some others, and picks on them for the sheer pleasure of it. It is important to note as parents that bullying is never a mistake. It is always intentional and repetitive, and you cannot afford to overlook it. It comes in different forms. It could be physical (like hitting, spitting), verbal (like insults, name-calling) or social/psychological (like gossips/rumors, distancing).

How to know if your child is being bullied at school.

Having understood what bullying is, it is important to tell if your child is experiencing any form of bullying at school. Most kids find it difficult to admit to their parent or teacher that they are being bullied so your child might suffer silently right under your nose and you would not know. A survey by Statista Research Department in 2020 showed that at least about 27% of students in the United States of America have experienced one form of bullying or the other. However, only a small percentage of this actually reports this to their parents or teachers. This is because most times kids feel they can handle it on their own fear that they would receive worse backlash from the bully if they heard, are wary of reprimanding reactions from adults (parents or teachers), or are afraid of stamping in the image of being a wimp or being weaker. This is, most often than not, a misinformed line of thought which would only lead to more silent suffering by the child. It is therefore up to you as a parent to watch out for any telltale sign that would clue you into any bullying your child might be going through.

10 signs that tell you your child is being bullied

There are certain signs to watch out for knowing if your child is being bullied at school. These signs range from obvious physical injuries to subtler ones, like unexplained silence. Unfortunately, bullying is prevalent in most schools and cuts across high school, middle school, and even elementary school. Another research published in Statista in 2020 showed that in 20 19, elementary schools in Japan had the highest number of bullying cases with about 485 thousand reports. So it is imperative to watch out for these signs from as early as elementary school.

Your child might experience bullying in school if he/she:

  • Has unexplained injuries, broken/missing items, and clothes.
  • Often complains of stomachaches, headaches, etc.
  • Is constantly reluctant to go to school, or take the school bus.
  • Has constant mood swings and appears depressed.
  • Is suddenly uninterested in things that usually excite them.
  • Has frequent loss of appetites, cannot sleep well, and/or has frequent nightmares.
  • Flunks at school.
  • Seems to have low self-esteem.
  • Displays anti-social behavior 
  • Appear depressed.

Of course, these signs may vary from child to child, and sometimes it might not point to bullying. But as the popular saying goes, it is better safe than sorry. However, if you suspect something, then you need to do something. The best thing to do would be to seek confirmation from your child. It would do no one good to lay complaints based on mere assumption or suspicion. You would need to talk first to your child to be sure of your suspicions. However, you need to be tactful in bringing up the issue. If they had not told you about it earlier, then it was probably because, like many other victimized kids, they lack confidence in adults’ abilities to help, have concerns over adults’ responses, and felt a sense of shame[4] at being bullied. So you need to approach the subject with a lot of delicacies if you are going to get them to talk.

You could start off by asking them who their friends are at school, if they have any special friends, who they relate with and why, who they don’t relate with, and why, if they enjoy their school and class/school mates, if they enjoy going to school. You could also bring up questions relating to bullying like if they knew what bullying meant if anyone in school/class did that to any other person if anyone in school acted aggressively towards them if anyone in school said hurtful things to and about them if they were excluded from certain activities in school.  

You could also attempt to speak to their teacher and certain questions as regards their performance in school, their relationship with the other kids, their level of confidence within the school environs, if they had any friends, the number and kinds of friends they had, their response in class, if there was any sudden change in behavior or academic performance.

If your child walks up to you directly and complains about being bullied at school or you have to follow the steps above to find out, well, then it is time for you to act.

Your child is being bullied? Here’s what you should do:

A survey by The Sun shows that bullying is the biggest threat faced by children in recent times, with about six in ten adults naming it as their biggest concern for their children. It is a menace that has spread everywhere, especially in schools. How then do you address the situation once you find out that your child is going through it?

Be calm.

The first thing to do is to be calm. Surprising, isn’t it? I know it is very easy to get agitated and frustrated once you find out that your child is being bullied. You want something immediate to be done, you even want someone to pay. But raising hell at that moment is not clever, as it would yield nothing. Your child doesn’t need you to go ballistic on them. They don’t need you stomping off to the school embarrassing them further. They need you to stay sane. They need you to show the level of maturity that you should as an adult. They need you to listen to them and feel heard. Otherwise, they would clam up or end up hating you forever for making the situation worse.  

Listen.

Now you have to listen to them and not just hear them. Listen with empathy. If they are giving an account, do not interrupt it. If they have talked, then you let them talk and pour out their mind. That is not the time to fiddle with your phone, move around or do one task or the other. Do not appear distracted or spaced out. That way you are building a circle of trust and they would be sure that you are actually interested in hearing them out and in knowing how they feel. You are also not listening to jump to quick conclusions or to pass blame or be judgmental.

I once read a book that highlighted 8 procedures for ending bullying. In that book, the author emphasized on the importance of parents sitting back to listen to their kids. You should also grab a copy of the book:     

The 8 Keys to End Bullying
This activity book helps parents, teachers, and the kids themselves to deal with bullying in school and the community at large. It’s also a guide to instilling empathy into young people who are prone to bully their peers.

Overall, the importance of this stage (listen) can’t be overrated, so DON’T EVER rush it.

Gather the facts.

Once they have narrated everything they wanted to you, then you need to gather the facts of as many incidents as you can. You do this by asking reasonable questions. You should not ask questions that give the impression that you think the bullying is their fault. No child deserves to be bullied, and for whatever reason they are being bullied, it is not their fault. You also do not want to come at them so forcefully with the questions that they begin to withdraw. You are aiming to ask questions like, “How did it happen?” “Was anyone around when it happened?” “Did you say anything before, during, or after it happened?” “How did this make you feel?” Those questions give you further insights into all the events that might have happened in the past. It also helps you understand the patterns or triggers of the bullying events, thus helping you to make informed plans and decisions on how to handle the situation.

Keep a record of every information you get.

Keep a logical record of every information about the bullying incidents you get from your child.

It is by the details you gather that you will plan your approach and make strategies to solve the crisis.

Carrie Goldman wrote a book in which he covered how parents can address their kid’s bullying correctly. You should get it here:

Sale
Bullied
In this book, the author shed broad light on the right approach to bullying. Parents and teachers will learn to make their kids respond to bullying correctly, and solve it once and for all.

Also, you would need the info as evidence to present to the school when you have to confront them about it. It would also make you look more organized and coherent, and give you an edge when laying your complaints.

Speak to the school authorities.

You have gotten enough proof that indeed your child is being bullied, now you have to go report the case to the school authorities. Of course, discuss this with your child so they know what steps you are taking. Most kids who have been bullied might not initially appreciate reporting to the school authorities. This could be because of shame, embarrassment, or fear. But you need to let your kid understand that they have nothing to fear or be ashamed of, instead, it should be the bully who should be because of their detestable behavior. They need to be assured that the steps that you are taking would help solve the problem. Before speaking to the school authorities, it would help to get familiarized with their anti-bullying policies or protocol of the school. Most schools usually have either or one of those. You can then refer to it when stating your case.

Sometimes, despite several visits to the school to complain, the bullying continues unchecked. It can be very frustrating. In cases like this, then you should speak to the higher power governing the school. In most cases, this is usually the school district. Tender your case up there and you will get answers there.

Teach your child to stand up for themselves.

If you want to eliminate a weed and make sure it does not grow back up at that spot again, then you would need to remove it from its very root. If you are going to make sure that your child does not have to suffer being bullied again, then you would have to go beyond eliminating the present obvious problem – the present bully, that is. Some parents believe the answer is to change schools, but it isn’t. Most often than not, such bullying continues in the next school. You need to understand – and get your child to understand too – that bullying is about power, the abuse of power.[5] And it only works when there is an imbalance of power. The bully is backed because he feels stronger or has a measure of power over the bullied. You want to erase that imbalance of power perceived by the bully. When the bullied cowers or cries or scampers off at the antics of the bully, it empowers the bully and makes him bolder and more daring. You don’t want a situation like that, so you have to teach them to stand up for themselves.

Make them understand their words are powerful, and they can use them to fight back constructively. Teach them to stand their ground and look the bully in the eye, regardless of how big or scary he may seem. Encourage them not to show their fears to the bully, but to act strongly at the instance of intimidation. With time, it would translate to their subconscious and they would discover they are no longer terrified of the bully. Teach them assertive words like ‘Leave me alone!’ ‘Stop that!’ ‘Enough!’ ‘That wasn’t funny’. Teach them to act indifferent, uninterested, or unaffected to pranks and to WALK OUT of confrontations they cannot handle, not run off or scamper off. You could enact a bullying scenario and have them practice their stance, reaction and words.  

 Work on a closer relationship with your child.

It is important as parents that your child trusts you and feels comfortable around you enough to talk to and confide in you. When your child is comfortable talking to you, then there is a higher chance that they would be open in telling you about any bullying incident happening to them. Also seeing, that you have started a process to address the prevailing bullying incident, you would need to communicate with them to know if your efforts are yielding results or if you need to change tactics or go a step higher. It would also help them feel more comfortable talking to you about their fears, then you can both work on them together.

Understand your role in boosting your child self-esteem

An old English saying goes, Charity begins at home. If you are going to groom your child to have a stronger backbone, then you would have to begin right from the home. For one, you would have to tone down on the over-protectiveness. Strange, huh? Seeing that this whole article is about protecting your child. Yeah, I know, but this article is more about long-term solutions, rather than a quick-fix kind of solution. And if you are going to raise a child who is going to stand up to bullies in whatever form they may come in for the rest of their life, then it is a no-no to over-protectiveness. This doesn’t mean you are a terrible parent or you are protecting them less. It only means you are giving room for them to develop on the inside and on the outside. Studies of passive victims of bullying suggest that parents (particularly mothers) use of overprotectiveness and over-involvement to control their children’s behavior places their children at increased risk for victimization.[6]

 That said, how do you stop being overprotective? I’ll tell you. If you are the kind of parent that follows your child to every party, every play date, every event, you’re being overprotective. If you are the type that makes every single decision for your child, not giving them so much as a say in matters that concern them, not allowing them to make certain decisions for herself and bearing the consequences (positive or negative) by herself, then you are being overprotective, and you are not exactly helping. A child who has their life totally run by a third-party would grow up lacking that self-esteem that comes from making decisions. They don’t need to feel that they are some witless chick under the huge shadow of a mother who controls even the teeny-weeny aspects of their life. They, instead, need you to help them make those decisions. Guidance is what they need. That way, they feel a kind of confidence in managing something. And they can extend that confidence in overcoming the bullying situation.   

Report the case to the police/ get legal help

I saved this for the last because I would not normally recommend this except in an extremely dire situation. Some bully situations can be very violent and damaging, and the school authorities or school districts might not be very responsive. In that situation, you might have to report the situation to the police, as it has breached the boundaries of the law. It is also possible to sue the school if it continues and gets more serious, but the processes can be quite long and messy. If not absolutely necessary, it’s best to avoid situations like this to save your child from unwanted attention and to save cost and time.

You can also teach your child basic defense moves they can use to protect herself from getting bruised, seriously injured, or maimed. It doesn’t have to be anything serious, just moves to block an attacker. But so you don’t end up creating an even worse problem while trying to solve one, remember to instill into them that the training class is not so they can prey on supposed weaker children but defend themselves with any physical attacker. Make it a strict rule that the training is only to be used in defense and never in the offensive.

Here’s a takeaway for you; it is a book written by Barbara Coloroso in which he took his time to deeply cover all angles of bullying, that is, everyone who is involved in the act of bullying:

Sale
The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander
This book effectively touches all the angles in the bully world; the kid who bullies, the kid being bullied, and the onlookers who take no action to stop bullying. It categorizes the various forms of bullying (including cyberbullying), and how to effectively stop them.

Conclusion

 Remember that bullying has gone way past a “necessary evil” or “rite of passage” as it used to be termed back in your days. It’s more debilitating than it destroys kids’ self-esteem. Therefore, bullying is the leading cause of depression and suicide among young ones. So once the bullying situation is addressed, you need to work on helping your child regain their self-confidence. Let them know none of it was their fault. Barack Obama said, “Each of us deserves the freedom to pursue our own version of freedom. No one deserves to be bullied.”


[1] Nation, Maury, et al. “Bullying in school and adolescent sense of empowerment: An analysis of relationships with parents, friends, and teachers.” Journal of community and applied social psychology 18.3 (2008): 211-232.

[2] Long, Teresa, and Kristina Alexander. “Bullying; Dilemmas, definitions and solutions.” Contemporary Issues in Education Research (CIER) 3.2 (2010): 29-34

[3] Lamb. Jennifer, Debra J. Pepler, and Wendy Craig. “Approach to bullying and victimization” Canadian Family Physician 55.4 (2009): 356-360.

[4] Chai, Lei, Jia Xue and Ziqiang Han. “School bullying victimization and self-rated health and life satisfaction: The mediating effect of relationships with parents, teachers and peer.” Children and Youth Services Review 117 (2020): 105281.

[5] Hymel, Shelley, and Susan M. Swearer Napolitano. “Bullying: An age-old problem that needs new solutions.” (2008).

[6] Nation, Maury, et al. “Bullying in school and adolescent sense of empowerment: An analysis of relationships with parents, friends, and teachers.” Journal of community and applied social psychology 18.3 (2008): 211-232.

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Author

Diana Lucas

Diana Lucas

Hi, Diana here. Welcome to my blog and hope you like my sharing. I am a mother of 2 boys, 3 years old and a 1 year old. I dedicate my career in child development research and I focus on parenting tips, positive parenting, educational toys for my babies. Your time here means a lot to me! Diana A. Lucas
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