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For the Bullied and the Bullies

Strategies for Parents

Q: My 8-year-old son was disciplined by his school last year for bullying other children. The new school year is upon us, and I’m worried about him continuing this behavior. What should I do?

A: Talk with your son about the bullying behavior that occurred in the past, and be clear about your expectations for how he will treat others.Be sure to differentiate between the bullying behavior and your son as an individual by labeling the behavior as a problem, not your son. Use clear, consistent messages to express these expectations: share your toys/games with your classmates; help others when they fall down or have a hard day; call all your classmates and friends by their names. Assist him with developing empathy for those who are the target of bullying by asking him to consider how those impacted by his behavior may feel. Use books or role- play at home to increase his understanding.

In the event that there is an incident of bullying, provide appropriate non-violent consequences.Understand the school’s response to bullying behavior and communicate with teachers about any incidents. Be sure to use verbal praise to recognize when he interacts in a positive way with peers and adults.

In addition to talking with your son, it is important to consider other factors that may contribute to the bullying behavior.Consider what messages your son receives about how to treat others from watching how members of your family interact with one another. Is there a parent, child, relative or family friend that demonstrates behavior similar to your son’s? Be aware of how family members treat one another, as your child will use this as a guide for his interactions with peers at school.

If aggressive behavior continues to be a concern, consider seeking additional help from a mental health professional.Aggression can be a sign of depression or can stem from an experience of trauma.

Q: My daughter is starting sixth grade and I’m worried about bullying in middle school.What should I do to keep her safe?

A: Parents are an important part of keeping kids safe from bullying. After school, talk with your child about her day and ask questions about her relationships with peers. Find out how she spends her lunchtime, recess, and class periods.Be sure to use active listening skills and express empathy: It sounds like you are feeling sad at lunch right now because you don’t have anyone to sit with. When kids feel safe talking about their feelings, parents are better equipped to respond when or if a situation with bullying arises.Do not teach your child to ignore a bully’s behavior or respond aggressively. Instead, teach her to be assertive and seek help from an adult. Emphasize that children and teens do not need to deal with bullying on their own, that adults have responsibility to keep kids safe. If your child reports being the victim of bullying, take it seriously, stay calm, and allow her to share her experiences. Include your child in the response to the bullying situation.“I’m concerned about what is going on with this kid at school. Let’s talk about the school staff members I will need to talk with first. Would you like to join me?” Including your child in the response builds her self-confidence and maintains a positive relationship with you. Be proactive by talking with your child’s school about its anti-bullying policies, supervision of students, and opportunities for parents to get involved.

Lucy Block, MS, LPC, provides therapeutic and educational services to children and families and is program coordinator of the FAM Program at Greater Richmond SCAN.
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