Would you — and should you — confront your child’s bully? There have been multiple stories in the news recently of parents dealing with their child’s bully and taking matters into their own hands. Recently, a woman in New Jersey was charged with criminal trespass, simple assault and making terroristic threats for boarding a school bus and confronting a boy who was allegedly bullying her daughter. All accounts stated that the woman boarded the bus and yelled at the boy; several students state that the mom cursed at the boy and his seatmate on the bus, and slapped them on the face as well. The mom denies cursing and hitting the boys, but admits to yelling at them.
I can certainly identify with that “mama bear” instinct of wanting to protect your child. No parent wants to see their child hurt. The mom stated that she had attempted to address the bullying with school officials, only to be met with no apparent response. I understand that frustration and the need to “do something.” While I can empathize with her situation, I am concerned about the message that her daughter may have received from her actions: that it’s okay to bully someone verbally and possibly physically if you are angry enough — and if you are bigger and stronger than them.
I think it’s important to think about the message that she was sending through her actions. We talk a lot about the importance of role-modeling the behavior that you want to see in your child. For example, if you want your child to be honest, then it’s important not to lie.
I am also concerned by one of the mother’s statements which has been quoted in the news coverage: “It’s crazy that this got blown into me doing something wrong – me and my family – when my daughter is the victim.” Another issue we talk a lot about on the Support Line is “victim mentality.” It’s that line of thinking that goes “I’m a victim so the rules don’t apply to me” or “It’s not fair, so I don’t have to follow the rules.” This is also poor role modeling by the mother, especially if the goal is to effectively address the bullying behavior.
So how do you address bullying behavior effectively? The ultimate goal is to help your child feel empowered to handle the bullying themselves if appropriate and at all possible. Start by listening, and try your best to keep your emotions out of the conversation. Ask your child, “What can you do to help yourself feel better in this situation?” Perhaps it’s coming up with a short phrase, such as “Leave me alone” or “Stop it — I don’t like that!” It might be making a plan to tell an adult or finding other kids to play with when the bullying happens. Talk with your child about how they would like you to be involved. Of course, if your child is telling a teacher or other adult and nothing is happening, if the bullying continues or worsens, or if it escalates to the point of physical threats or violence, you do need to get involved, and we encourage you to let your child know. If you try to address it with the teacher or other adult in charge, and nothing happens, we recommend “going up the ladder” so to speak; talk with the principal, the director of transportation (if happening on the school bus), the superintendent, the school board, and so on.
Unfortunately, almost all kids will be exposed to bullying at some point in their lives, whether that is being the bully, being bullied, being a bystander to bullying, or some combination. Remember, it’s our job as parents to empower our kids to address bullying effectively when it’s happening to them, not to become a bully ourselves in the process.
Rebecca Wolfenden is a loving Momma to her son and a dedicated 1-on-1 Coach. She earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University and has been with Empowering Parents since 2011. Rebecca has experience working with children and families in home settings and schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who have survived significant emotional and physical trauma.