For Marie Newman’s son, the bullying began in fifth grade, and involved almost constant taunting and humiliation. Jacqui DiMarco’s son was only in first grade when he became the target of a bully who, by fourth grade, was harassing him at school and over the internet. Newman and DiMarco each tried a variety of different approaches, from ignoring the bullying and hoping it would pass, to working together to launch an antibullying program at their children’s school. Since then, they’ve provided advice and support to victims’ families, and joined antibullying efforts at the local, state, and regional levels. Today, both their sons are well beyond bullying and thriving, and DiMarco and Newman have written a book: When Your Child is Being Bullied: Real Solutions for Parents, Educators and Other Professionals. Find out what they’ve learned in the excerpt below — and check their website for additional tools and resources.
Bullying is tough to manage due to the wide variety of ways the bully implements the offenses. Bullying can be infrequent and light in nature, or vicious and constant. Every case is unique. What is not unique is the clear need to stop the torment for your child. Children bully for ridiculous and cruel reasons, and some bully for no reason at all. The important message: Stop it early. Do not let it go on. Stop it comprehensively. Make sure you confront every single bully. If you let bullying persist, it will only get worse and will spread to other bullies.
There are many solutions to bullying, and every solution will be different based on a child’s unique circumstances. Once a parent identifies the bullying incidence, there are steps that can effectively manage the situation to achieve a positive solution.
1. First, stay calm. This is the hardest thing to do, but is the most important. When you talk to the school, or another parent, you want to appear as the engaged, caring parent, not the crazy parent.
2. Document everything. Every time your child comes home with a story, write down who, what, when, where and how.
3. Encourage your child to talk freely, and remind him there is no judgment at home. Ask specifically about how it makes him feel and if there is anything that can make it better. Let him know right away that the bullying situation will be addressed, and he will be protected.
4. Do not ignore it. Do not tell your child to ignore it. Occasionally, with the bully who is an experimenter, ignoring it may work, but with advanced bullies, ignoring it is useless. Most advanced bullies feel powerful when their victims ignore it. [Editor’s note: According to this book, there are four types of bullies: the experimenter, the old-fashioned bully, the elite bully, and the former victim turned bully.]
5. If the bullying includes social media, shut down all social media accounts immediately. Get a new cell phone number and private email account for your child. Before you shut down the account, consider sending a message to all of your child’s tormenters indicating that if they do not stop now, and stop talking about your child in any way, you will go to all of the parents and the school to address it directly. Very important: Keep a close eye on your child’s phone history. Review all texts, emails, social media exchanges, everything. This is critical. Minimize whom your child interacts with electronically, and ensure there is no online or electronic bullying.
6. Do not let anyone tell you it is just kids being kids. Let your child know that bullying is not acceptable, and he should not accept it. Bullying is abnormal behavior.
7. Do not allow your school to perform peer-to-peer conflict resolution where the victim and the bully meet in the same room to discuss the situation and problem-solve. This re-victimizes the victim. The bully learns nothing and simply says what the adult wants to hear so he can get back to being a bully as quickly as possible. The bully will be laughing about the meeting within minutes. The consensus is that conflict resolution does not work, and it actually makes the situation worse.
8. Do not blame your child for the bullying. Bullying is abnormal behavior, and a victim never deserves it or provokes it.
9. Make certain you work with your child and ask him how he wants to respond to the bullying and how he would like to handle the situation. Retaliation from the bully is a possibility, and you need to include that variable into your plan. Discuss a few options with your child to help address this issue.
10. In serious, ongoing cases (three or more instances), call the school to map out a specifically tailored strategy for your child. Equally important, do not let the school implement action until you have reviewed the plan with your child, and discussed the option with the specific school staff members who will be involved.
11. Key requirements for the plan should include:
- You, as the parent of the victim, must take an active role in the solution.
- The bully’s parents must be called and notified.
- The bully must have a consequence or punishment.
- The bully and his family must sign an agreement to cease and desist all bullying, and to stop any further discussion regarding your child in any manner, to anybody, at any time.
- The bully must be notified that many acts of bullying are considered crimes after a second offense. Let the bully know how your state’s antibullying law will affect him should the bullying continue.
- The plan must have a specific timeline that the school is accountable for while correcting the problem.
- Your child needs to have go-to adults at school to help him.
12. Do not take, “I’m sorry there is nothing we can do,” as an answer from either the bully’s parent or the school.
13. If your child is bullied with any regularity, the bully’s parents must be told. Let the school handle it first. If they do not call the parents, or if the bullying has not stopped, you need to call the parents.
14. Make certain your child has protection at school to the best of your ability. Work with the school to have adults supervising open areas such as hallways, locker rooms, gym class, the bus and other open, vulnerable situations.
15. Help your child find new friends through clubs, groups, and throughout the community. These can be community centers, YMCA-based groups, park district classes or sports, library programs, collecting clubs, drama clubs, club sports, church groups, volunteer groups, and others.
16. Be a pleasant nuisance. Stay in touch initially with your child’s teachers, school counselor, psychologist, and principal daily and weekly. Then retreat as needed as the problem subsides.
17. Importantly, if you are not getting the support you need at school, or in the community, visit your police department. Make it clear that initial steps have not worked, and you would like an officer to have a conversation with the bully and his parents.
Stay determined and focused. Be your child’s advocate. Do not give up.