“Your child has been possibility even before receiving it. You may have felt uneasy about the way your child has been interacting with another child. You know that some teasing is normal for kids, but something about this seems like more than just teasing. The phone rings then suddenly it’s clear that something is going bullying other children.” This is the telephone call that no parent wants to get from school or from another parent. If you, as a parent, have ever received such a call, you may have suspected the on.
Whatever raises the red flag, your first response sets the tone for the outcomse to follow. Your reactions can turn such adversity into an extraordinary learning opportunity for your child and all involved. If you don’t have an appropriate first response, the outcome could be disastrous for what is already a volatile situation. There are three things you as the parent of a bully can do to resolve the situation. Manage your reactions. Find out exactly what is going on. Then work with your child and others involved to resolve the situation. The following strategies may help to bring about an effective resolution.
· Manage your reactions to the call. Take a deep breath and try to collect your thoughts and focus on staying calm. Write down what you are hearing so you don’t miss any details or inadvertently edit any of them. The natural first reaction may be fear, shame denial, this can’t be, panic, and defensiveness. Such reactions are understandable. It’s so hard to hear a label like that affixed to your child, and it can make you feel instantly like you’re a bad parent. You may feel shock at that moment of recognition of something you’ve been in denial about or something you’ve been dreading addressing. It’s important to remember that it’s not a label on your child, but a description of behavior that your child is exhibiting today and is not necessarily who he or she is in entirety or in the future, if you get help. It doesn’t mean that you are irresponsible or that you are a horrible parent. Shut down those negative thought processes.
· Be gracious and thank the person who has contacted you. It’s a good that you are finding out now. Demonstrating to the caller that you understand and are eager to intervene and help change the situation makes a big difference. Reassure the caller that you take this very seriously, and that you will do everything you can to get any bullying or troubling behavior to stop.
· Talk with your child. This is a fact-finding conversation and it’s important that you be calm and non-judgmental in the discussion with him or her. Calmly inform your child of the call regarding the bullying accusation and tell your child that you need to know what happened. Ask your child such questions as: Do you know what they are talking about? What happened? Is any of this true? Allow your child several iterations to tell you. Ask if he remembers any other details. Then read the description of what you’ve been told by the caller that happened and ask your child to write down, in as much detail as he can remember, his version of the event. Tell him that you need to know everything he remembers about what was done and said. Calmly inform your child that you realize that he may also have new information to add. This will allow your child to test the waters and see how you are going to respond. If your child sees that you remain calm and approachable, his fear may diminish and you may hear a lot more of the facts and details. Make it safe for him to continue to tell you more as he feels more trusting that you are able to hear what he did. Reassure your child that, whatever happened, you are going to help him get through this.
· Be the adult. If your child can only tell you what the other child did, reassure him that you want to hear that, but first you want to hear what he did. It’s important to help him reflect on his own behavior. Try to assess if your child can empathize with the other child’s experience. Ask him such questions as: Can you help me see why the other child sees it his way? How would you feel if he did that to you? As a parent, you must attempt to understand what led up to this bullying behavior. Is there underlying insecurity, anger, or previous teasing? Is something going on at home? Look for any underlying issues that could motivate such reactivity or unease. Look for any group dynamics underlying the behavior.
· Teach your child responsibility. Your child may have a different version of events. Regardless, your job is to help your child recognize and identify exactly what he did and be accountable and responsive in apologizing, and then finding strategies for moving forward. Even if your child is positive the other child started it, he is nonetheless responsible for giving you a full accounting of what happened and for assuming ownership of his or her contribution. Let your child know the seriousness of the situation and that you are going to help make sure it doesn’t continue. Help your child make amends. This is sometimes best accomplished with the school counselor present. Then develop a contract about your behavioral expectations going forward. Both parties need to feel safe and supported.
· Give your child appropriate social-emotional tools. Teach him more positive and acceptable ways to react and to deal with conflict and tension. Concentrate on strengthening his social-emotional skills. Calmly make it clear to him that violence and aggression, physical or verbal, is not an appropriate or effective coping tool. Teach your child more appropriate social ways to deal with conflict to avoid escalating drama, such as walking away or telling a teacher. Teach him face-saving ways to fend off provocation if he is indeed being provoked himself. Model and encourage kindness and appropriate conflict resolution. Learn about your child’s social life at school and any class or group dynamic. Find appropriate alternative activities and friends to solidify social connections. Encourage and model good behavior and the use of kind or neutral words with family and others.
· Get help. Take the situation seriously and avoid the tendency to minimize it by excusing it as just a one-time occurrence. It won’t go away if left unchecked. If the situation is not immediately addressed, it can continue to hurt your child’s social and academic life. Maintain a positive attitude that the behavior can be stopped. Find out if there is a school policy on bullying and support it. It may also be helpful to get a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation of your child to determine if there are underlying, unknown issues, such as anxiety, depression, inability to read social cues, or impulsivity. Such an evaluation can help you better understand how your child thinks, feels, and reacts. Armed with such knowledge, you will be better able to determine what kind of help he needs going forward.
· Support growth, change, and optimism. Instill in your child the notion that life is full of opportunities for growth and to reinvent himself, if need be. The message should be that, in order to grow emotionally and socially, he must be willing to do the hard work and take ownership of his mistakes and of understanding the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that contributed to them. He must understand that the most important thing, at home and in school, is to be honest, appropriately responsive, and accountable.
Picture credit: Gabriella Fabbri