Survival advice for parents:
Breathe, it’s going to be okay. I wish someone would have said that to my mom and dad when I was being bullied. Back then there was no one to help us. That’s why I’ve dedicated my life to anti-bullying. As one of the movement’s pioneers, I want to be that person that my family and I wish would have been there for us during those hard, lonely school years.
You CAN get through this with your child. You need to hold onto your humanity and not allow your anger or fear to consume your better judgement. One important element to remember, and if your child is being bullied, it may be tough for you to accept, but if you’re able to, it will change everything–bullying is NOT an act of hatred. It’s a cry for help. If your child is being bullied, it’s not because the bully dislikes your child. It’s because something else is causing that bully pain, and he or she is bringing all that negative emotion to school. Be curious. Find out as much about the bully’s backstory as you can. The more you learn, the more you’ll be able to feel compassion for the bully. If you can sustain that compassion, and I know it may not be easy, your whole demeanor will shift. The rage you’ve been experiencing will diminish and be replaced by a willingness to work productively with everyone involved. Hang in there. Like I said, it’s going to be okay. Breathe….
Below is some specific advice excerpted from “Please Stop Laughing at Us”… the sequel to my memoir; “Please Stop Laughing At Me”:
- Never say to a bullied child: “Ignore the bully and walk away; leave them alone they’ll leave you alone; they’re just jealous; twenty years from now… ; I know how you feel; or be patient.”
- This is what you should say to your bullied child and do: Step one: Say, “I don’t know how you feel. I can’t imagine what you’re going through. It must be awful.” Step two: Say, “Let’s talk about an action that we can take together today to address this challenge you’re facing.” Step three: Contact the local park district, public library, community center and any other outlets that offer activities for kids and ask them to send you a list of what they offer, then review this information with your child and help him choose something he can participate in. It’s important you research activities at least a few miles from where you live, perhaps go one town over, to ensure your child meets new faces and isn’t interacting with the same kids from school. Step four: Contact your child’s school counselor and calmly explain what’s been going on with your child. You might want to start out with something like, “My child’s been encountering some challenges with his classmates and I’d like to sit down and discuss possible solutions with you.”
- Don’t advise your child to ignore the bully. Tell him to confront the bully nonviolently and tell him to stop. If your child is too timid to do this, rehearse the confrontation with him the same as if it were a scene in a play, writing a script and memorizing the lines. You could play the bully,your child plays himself, and someone else in the family acts as director. Not only will this give your child a sense of control because he’s practiced what he’s going to say and do, but the mild disassociation of approaching it like an actor portraying a part makes him feel less vulnerable.
- Try and work productively with the school, and be reasonable and rational. The more you lose your temper, the more you lose your credibility with administration. However, if after repeated attempts requesting help for your child, you feel the school isn’t being pro-active or supportive enough, reach out to other parents whose children are also being bullied, form a coalition, and document, document, document! Then as an organized group, methodically work your way up the chain of command. If the principal and the superintendent are unresponsive, present your case at a school board meeting, and if that doesn’t work, contact the education writer at your local paper. The same applies if you’re dealing with a teacher who’s a bully and are getting stonewalled by the school administration. A school can ignore one distressed parent, but they can’t ignore an organized, determined group of parents united as one.
- When approaching the parents of bullies and Elite Tormentors, rather than initiating the conversation on an accusatory note likely to make them defensive, start out by emphasizing what you have in common as opposed to what separates you. You might try something along the lines of: “Our kids are struggling with each other, why don’t we get together and discuss how we can work together to help them both.”
- If you think it would be helpful for your child to see a therapist, make sure that you attend the first few sessions with your child, so she feels you’re addressing this problem together as opposed to “I am the problem.” Also, thoroughly research the mental-health professional’s background, and request references. Should a psych med be prescribed, ask lots of questions and be confident of the doctor’s diagnosis before giving your child anything.
- Be alert to the warning signs that your child may be getting bullied. Those signs could include: lethargy, depression, self-mutilation, extreme makeover attempts, diminished personal hygiene, lack of interest in social activities, sudden change in weight, inexplicable fits of rage, sudden increase or decrease in grades, and faking illness or willing oneself sick to avoid going to school.
- If you suspect your child may be an Elite Tormentor but aren’t sure, casually have a conversation with her about who’s popular at school and who’s not, coaxing her into revealing the names of those students who struggle to fit in or who strike her as lonely. A week later, ask your child if she’d like to host a party suggesting it might be nice if, along with her friends, she invited a couple of the forgotten ones, too. If she agrees despite what her friends may think, she’s probably an Elite Leader. If she won’t because she’s fearful her friends would freak but feels bad about it, she’s most likely a bystander. But if she recoils at the thought or acts indignant, perhaps even laughs, chances are she is an Elite Tormentor. When your child is on the phone, pay attention to her tone and demeanor. Does it sound like she’s making a joke at someone else’s expense or gossiping about another student? This too could indicate you have an Elite Tormentor on your hands. Also, keep an eye on your child when she’s on the Internet or her smartphone. When she texts or Snapchats, is she bad mouthing others? What social networking sites and Apps does she use and what are some of the things she and her friends are posting? Does she participate in nasty text streams with other students? The more you know, the more yo
u can protect her and everyone else.
- Traditional punishment doesn’t work. It only makes an angry child angrier. Try more compassionate and creative forms of discipline. For example, in lieu of grounding your child, hand him a notebook and a pen. Tell him you want him to perform one unexpected act of kindness for a different person each day for one week. Tell him immediately upon completion of each act, he needs to write down what he did, how the recipient responded and how that response made him feel. Then he needs to hand the notebook to the recipient for a signature and a cell phone number. Recipients under eighteen years old, parental signature and phone number required. Ask your son to turn in his notebook to you, and explain that you’re going to call some recipients at random to verify he complied honestly. If you discover he didn’t honor what you asked him to do, then turn to a more traditional form of punishment, one that will resonate. Another example of compassionate discipline–if your daughter puts down some of her less fortunate classmates, spend an afternoon with her at a soup kitchen handing out food to the homeless. The key is to help your child access their empathy and find creative ways to develop it as one would exercise.
- The typical bullied child is an Ancient Child, an old soul trapped in a young body. This is the child who wants to fit in just as desperately as his peers, but he has an adult sense of compassion and morality that sets him apart and often makes other children perceive him as “weird.” If you have an Ancient Child, remember, though he may act more socially and intellectually mature than his classmates, inside, he’s still emotionally just a kid, and realize that the rejection he’s enduring at school could be cutting a hole in his soul, and it’s up to you to do everything you can to help him, even on those days when your patience has run out and you fear your hope may be next. And if you’re an Adult Survivor of Peer Abuse yourself, don’t dismiss what happened to you. Find a therapist and talk about it so it assists you as a parent in understanding your child.
Love and hugs,