Action Steps for Parents

When children are involved in bullying situations, it is important for parents to work even harder than usual to boost their children's self-esteem, self-confidence, and independence and be willing to take action when needed. The following suggestions are offered to help parents identify appropriate responses to bullying problems experienced by their children at school:

 Be careful not to convey to a child who is being victimized that something is
wrong with him/her or that he/she deserves such treatment. When a child is subjected to abuse from his or her peers, it is not fair to fault the child's social
skills. Respect is a basic right: All children are entitled to courteous and
respectful treatment. Convince your child that he or she is not at fault and that
the bully's behavior is the source of the problem.

 It is appropriate to call the school if your child is involved in a conflict as either
a victim or a bully. Work collaboratively with school personnel to address the problem. Keep records of incidents so that you can be specific in your
discussion with school personnel about your child's experiences at school.

 You may wish to arrange a conference with a teacher, principal, or counselor.
School personnel may be able to offer some practical advice to help you and
your child. They may also be able to intervene directly with each of the
participants. School personnel may have observed the conflict firsthand and
may be able to corroborate your child's version of the incident, making it harder
for the bully or the bully's parents to deny its authenticity.

 While it is often important to talk with the bully or his/ her parents, be careful in
your approach. Speaking directly to the bully may signal to the bully that your child is a weakling. Speaking with the parents of a bully may not accomplish anything since lack of parental involvement in the child's life is a typical characteristic of parents of bullies. Parents of bullies may also fail to see anything wrong with bullying, equating it to "standing up for oneself."

 Offer support to your child but do not encourage dependence on you. Rescuing
your child from challenges or assuming responsibility yourself when things are not going well does not teach your child independence. The more choices a child has to make, the more he or she develops independence, and independence can contribute to self-confidence.

 Do not encourage your child to be aggressive or to strike back. Chances are
that it is not his or her nature to do so. Furthermore, such behavior is likely to escalate rather than improve a bullying situation. Rather, teach your child to be assertive. A bully often is looking for an indication that his/her threats and intimidation are working. Tears or passive acceptance only reinforces the bully's behavior. A child who does not respond as the bully desires is not likely to be chosen as a victim. For example, children can be taught to respond to aggression with humor and assertions rather than acquiescence.

 Be patient. Conflict between children more than likely will not be resolved
overnight. Be prepared to spend time with your child, encouraging your child to develop new interests or strengthen existing talents and skills that will help develop and improve his/her self-esteem. Also help your child to develop new or bolster existing friendships. Friends often serve as buffers to bullying.

 If the problem persists or escalates, you may need to seek an attorney's help or
contact local law enforcement officials. Bullying or acts of bullying should not be tolerated in the school or the community. Students should not have to tolerate bullying at school any more than adults would tolerate such situations at work.

Click here for another set of tips for parents regarding bullying among children, developed by EDC's Ron Slaby in collaboration with the Massachusetts Medical Society. It can be ordered as a single tip card for distribution to parents, or as part of a series of parent education cards on youth violence.

The Health Information Network of the National Education Association created the Can We Talk? parent education program to begin to bridge the gulf that often exists between schools, parents, and their children around difficult topics related to health. This Web site provides extensive resources for parents, including a new parent-child communication curriculum, Can We Talk About Bullying & Harassment?. This workshop can be used with parents of 5- to 15-year-olds to help them address the difficult topic of bullying among young people. Visit the Web site or contact the NEA Health Information Network at (202) 822-7570 or to learn more about this training and to access other valuable resources for parents.