Bullying, Part 2: Bullying 101 for Parents

My last blog discussed some general aspects of bullying, as well as some tips for addressing this issue with your children. A friend who previewed “Bullying, Part 1,” spurred me on to write this sequel because she questioned my comments about parental involvement, saying that she had always believed that “kids have to learn to work things out themselves.”

When to intervene

In many instances, her observation is true. Friends and siblings certainly get into arguments and sometimes say mean things. And I agree that children do need to learn to work out some conflicts on their own. For example, I don’t get involved in my children’s fights over toys unless one of them starts using those toys (or their hands) as weapons. And I don’t jump in during my kids’ playdates if they start arguing about what to play.

However, bullying is different from these behaviors, and studies have shown that a quick response from an adult, a reaction that immediately emphasizes that such behavior is not acceptable, can be effective.

Many parents don’t believe that the school should intervene

Interestingly, a poll from the University of Michigan came out as I was working on this blog that demonstrates that many adults don’t really consider bullying of great importance. Despite the fact that the majority of parents polled stated that bullying is a major concern, only half of these parents felt that schools should intervene. Most felt that only if there was a perceived threat to a child’s physical safety should the school intervene. However, parents were more divided in their thoughts about intervention with regards to other types of bullying.

Many parents don’t consider social isolation to be bullying

Again, bullying is defined as repeated and unwanted behaviors towards another child, either using words—as in name-calling or insults, spreading rumors, or attempting to socially isolate a child—or causing physical harm to the other person. Either of these 2 types of bullying can be devastating to a child. In fact, many episodes of school violence have been linked to children who repeatedly suffered social isolation. However, in the University of Michigan poll, only half of parents felt that bullying via social isolation warranted intervention.

When is it bullying?

If the children involved have had conflicts in the past, or if a child repeatedly worries about interactions with a particular child or group of children, then bullying is probably going on.

What to do

If concerned that the behavior(s) you have witnessed is bullying, you should:

  • Respond immediately. Separate the children and end the interaction.
  • Obviously, if a child has been injured, seek medical attention.
  • Stay calm and respectful (role model!) while handling the situation.
  • Don’t put anyone on the spot in front of a group of kids. Discuss and gather information from both sides privately.
  • If there is more than 1 child doing the bullying, separate the perpetrators before questioning them. (That is, keep them away from each other so they can’t talk back and forth and get their stories straight.)
  • If children were witnesses and were laughing or encouraging the bullying behavior, also discuss with them why that behavior is not okay.
  • Even if the event you witnessed didn’t occur on school property, it is a good idea to make the school aware so that school personnel can keep a closer eye on things at school.
  • If you have serious concerns about physical harm to yourself and don’t feel safe intervening, call the police.

Don’t tolerate bullying

So, yes, in a safe environment, children need to learn to resolve conflict. And good friends will occasionally hurl insults at each other, but this is usually not bullying. (As a parent, such fights can still be hard to watch and may be worth a one-on-one chat with your own child.) But, by all means, if you sense that an interaction is going beyond typical or is becoming cruel and harmful, step in and show that bullying is something that will not be tolerated.

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