Bullies… What You Need To Know

Let’s try a little exercise.

Think back to your childhood.  Can you name a person who bullied you?

Sean Sands was mine.  As a 7th grader, Sean was close to six feet tall and well-built- he was a footballer who knew how to throw his weight around.  And that he did.

Occasionally, I was the subject of his attention, but not that often and not that seriously, and yet, fifty years later, I still remember him.

I cannot begin to tell you the number of parents, predominantly women–successful career people, wives, and mothers–who have set in my office and who, when asked this same question, immediately provided the name of their nemesis.  The scars are still raw.

It is especially difficult when the victim is their child.  It is especially hard when you are the parent of this child, and you know that your options for making things better are very limited-talk about feeling like a failure!  This is when mom ends up on my couch, tissue in hand, and apologizing for feeling upset.

And then, it can get worse.  Your child can become the target not just of one, but of many.  Girls and boys, some you have known from early childhood, suddenly turn on your child with a pack mentality that is often brutal, certainly unkind.  

And, it is happening at a younger and younger age.

Sadly, bullying is pervasive throughout every part of our society, and the reasons for it are complex and innumerable.  A Google search on the subject produces 14 million results- a sign of the interest in it. The goal of this blog is not to provide an academic discussion based on the research; the point is to offer you practical advice that can positively support your child.

No blog, article, movie or book does justice to what bullying feels like for all involved.  However, it is one of those subjects where a partnership with Confident Parenting can be of great benefit.   

We understand just how hard it is to watch your wonderful, smart, gentle child in pain caused by another.  We know what you would like to do to the bully, but your rational side leaves you impotent in the face of his/her hostility.  

What Can You Do?

bullyingThe first thing you need to do -and the hardest- is to do nothing, at least immediately.

The worst thing you can do is to act emotionally, and therefore, irrationally- it will only make things worse for your child-trust me on this.

You actually have two goals: first, to protect your child from the worse of the abuse; second, to build up your child to provide him/her with the strength needed to get through this.

The first may require that you move your child to another school (club, group, etc) Of course, there are steps you can take before this, but it is the ultimate step that you must be willing to take depending on the degree of abuse.

You should first try to enlist your child’s teachers and administrators by quietly working with them to enforce the rules and confront the bully.  Your role is to advocate for your child, and if they drag their feet, you may have to seek legal recourse; too often, it is only when they receive a legal letter that you get their attention.  Be polite, avoid confrontation, understand the difficult position they are in, but stand firm-if you do not advocate for your child, who will?

Keep a paper trail and demand that all meetings be recorded.  Ask for a weekly update, and make sure you have someone you trust taking notes. Do not hesitate to use words such as abuse and assault, and make sure the administration understands the legal implications.  If you are not getting satisfaction, try the superintendent of schools, the school board, etc.  

Recognize that the best you can hope for is that the school will create a shield around your child that ensures that the bully understands the high price to pay for future antisocial behavior.  Keep your expectations modest.

Do not confront the bully yourself-trust me, it will only backfire on your child, and it will make things worse.  Peers will rush to defend the villain in this, even as they understand, or have even suffered themselves from the negative actions of this person.

As mentioned, if this abuse continues over time, remove your child from the school.  How long does your child have to endure this daily abuse?

This will require that you do your homework on the alternatives, even as you are working to make things better in the current school.  Do not leap before you have a viable plan; do not wait until your child is in crisis before you make the plan. This is where we are here to help and support.

Cultivating Friendship

dont-bullyWhile dealing with the immediate issues, you need to remember our earlier blog on the urgent v the important. Protecting your child is urgent, but the second part of your task in helping your child build positive friendships to ease the sting of hard times is important.

In my work with families, I have suggested to parents that their boy only needs one friend to be happy and secure. With one friend, he can play ball; he can play video games; he can go to the movies, go out for pizza, and have someone to sit with at lunchtime.  The danger is if that friend moves or they fall out, or interests change; then your boy must construct another friendship, and that is not easy for some.  

Understand that some children cannot handle more that one friend at a time for pizza, movie outings, etc.  For such children, three is a crowd, and you may have to host multiple playdates before you find the child whose personality fits best with your child.  

With girls, my experience, and my advice to parents is that she be a floater.  I have sat with too many parents who relate how their daughter is devastated because the best friend she has known since Kindergarten, who has gone on vacation with their family, and who they view as another daughter, not only will not speak with their daughter anymore but is openly mocking her to others.  

Unfortunately, it happens all the time.

Help your daughter to become a floater between different groups of friends, so that when there is a falling out inside one, there are others the child can turn to for friendship.  

Moreover, it is vital that your child, boy or girl, find friendships and passions beyond the walls of school that belong to just him or her, and that have little to do with school friends.  So many students who struggle socially or academically in school find success and rich friendships in scouting, a team sport, dance, art, church, and so on.  These opportunities are so important for both girls and boys. Seek them out; if necessary help to create them; your child will benefit.

It is vitally important that mothers, aunts, and other women-of-importance in your daughter’s life support her, help her understand their own experiences, and consistently provide support and perspective.

Bullying is one of the most difficult situations that face parents, partly because it triggers in many of them the emotions of their own experience at the hands of the bully or the clique.  Parents naturally wish to save their child from this pain, but the real pain often comes when they discover that they cannot protect their child as they wish.

However, there are steps you can take that can help. At Confident Parenting, we are ready and willing to support you by developing a plan to support your child.  Please contact us at any time.

PS:  By coincidence, I became very good friends with Sean’s girlfriend at university, while he was elsewhere.  Eventually, we met up again on a number of occasions. My nemesis was no longer this strong physical figure-he had simply grown faster than his peers, and now we had all caught up.  Moreover, he proved to be very boring and socially awkward.

The good news is that we all grow up, and in the end, the meek always inherit the earth.  So will your child-hang in there with him/her. Our goal must be to make the path to the future as smooth as possible.