Should you tell your child that ignoring bullying will make it stop?
Once upon a time, “Just ignore it” was standard advice. But according to psychologist and bullying expert Maurice Elias, times have changed. In our recent online conversation about “Bullyproofing Your Child,” Elias told GreatSchools Executive Editor Carol Lloyd that this advice is outdated. “There was a time that we had rotary phones,” he quipped. Times have changed. Now parents need to understand bullying 2.0 — and how to deal with it.
Here’s what our two experts — journalist and Sticks and Stones author Emily Bazelon and Rutgers professor and Emotionally Intelligent Parenting author Maurice Elias — say parents need to know.
Never blame the victim
“We don’t want kids to feel like they’re the cause of what’s happened to them,” Elias says. You want your child to be resilient and to be able to defend him- or herself. But, says Elias, it’s important to never imply that your child is at fault. Kids who bully choose their victims randomly, and it’s usually impossible to tell why an individual child becomes a victim.
See this discussion at 15:08.
Want more? See our article: 12 bullying myths
3 types of bullies
When we talk about bullies, parents often think of the thug who whacks kids and steals their lunch money. That type of bullying still exists, Bazelon says, but schools are now doing an increasingly good job of controlling it. She argues that kids today are confronting more subtle and insidious types of bullying that are far harder to identify and stop.
See this discussion at 16:15.
Want more? Read our article: Sticks, stones, and drama: the truth about bullying
Who should parents reach out to about cyberbullying?
In some cases, it makes sense to involve your child’s school, according to Elias. “I’ve worked with schools where the principal is very clear that the behavior of the child extends outside of the school,” he says. At the same time, cyberbullying is a legal issue, so talking to your local police department, which has the resources to deal with cyber crime, is also a good idea.
Bazelon cautions parents to investigate the issue before they react. “I tend to be so instinctively protective of my kids,” she says, she finds it easy to overreact in the heat of the moment. First, she says, calm down. Take the time to investigate. Ask your child for the full story, and find out what role your child has played. Then get screen shots of the interactions and find out as much as you can (including talking the issue over with a spouse or a friend for a reality check). Only after you’ve done your research, contact your child’s school or law enforcement.
See this discussion at 33:38.
Want more? Read our article: The truth about cyberbullying
When siblings bully
When routine sibling squabbles cross the line into bullying, Bazelon says parents may want to take a close look at the environment in their home — including the way they deal with conflict themselves: “Sometimes when my kids are being mean to each other, I start wondering if I have been sniping at my husband too much recently, and they are picking up on that tension and that sense that you settle conflicts by cutting someone else down instead of building them up.”
See this discussion at 31:35.
Want more? Watch our video: Is it sibling rivalry or bullying?
When the teacher is the bully
“We know that this happens,” says Elias, “and we need [it] to be completely unacceptable.” Teachers are human and allowed to have an occasional bad day, he says, but if the behavior is persistent, parents should take action. Talk to the principal and demand that the issue be addressed immediately. “Just imagine: you’re sending your kid to school — 180 school days. Why would you want to even have one of those days have that child be subject to any kind of verbal unpleasantness on the part of an adult?”
See this discussion at 29:03.
Want more? Read our article: When the teacher is the bully
What is the one thing you should do if you think your child is being bullied?
Good communication with your child is essential, according to Elias: “You want your child to be able to speak about things that are bothering them. You don’t want these things to have to escalate before you hear about them.” It’s also important to have a good relationship with your child’s school — with administrators, teachers, and counselors — so you can all work together if a bullying problem arises.
See this discussion at 25:29.
Want more? Read our article: If your child is being bullied
Be aware (and beware) the label
“Sometimes I think it’s actually helpful to let go of the term bullying because it’s so loaded and fraught,” Bazelon says. In schools, the label triggers mandatory reporting and punishments when it’s probably more productive to focus on creating a positive culture. How do you create such a culture? Giving positive reinforcement for being kind and emphasizing “put-ups” rather than “put-downs,” for example, are just a few ways that schools can build a school climate where bullying isn’t tolerated.
See this discussion at 22:10.
Want more? Read an excerpt of Bazelon’s book Sticks and Stones
What is the Emotional Smarts: Conversations on Parenting series?
It’s a series of online discussions with experts about hot-button emotional issues for kids, parents, and families. Parents, bloggers, teachers, and kids are invited to these free, bimonthly online conversations.
We use Google+ Hangout on Air, an online broadcasting tool, to host these conversations. The experts and the moderator are live on video; all other participants can type their questions on the Hangout page or via Twitter using the hashtag #emotionalsmarts. Our Hangouts are live and last 30 minutes. If you miss the live Hangout, you can view the full video of the conversation on the Hangout page, on GreatSchools, or on Social Moms.