Parents often wonder this when their child comes home from school and complains to them about another kid picking on them. This is something I have often considered, as most kids are bullied at some point and mine are no exception. It's hard to know when to get involved, to what extent to get involved, and what action to take if we do get involved.
1: First and foremost - the MOST important thing you can do to help any child who is being bullied - tell them that it's not their fault and that nobody has the right to make them question their self-worth. Children will internalize their bullies behavior. In the case of verbal abuse, they will wonder if the horrible things being said about them are true. Even if mom and dad say that it's not, that's just mom and dad.
When children are chronically bullied, they develop a strong sense of the undefined Less Than. The undefined Less Than does so much damage because it insinuates that there is something ingrained and inherently wrong with the child that the child cannot even identify to fix. They question their deepest sense of themselves. They need to know and understand that there really is nothing wrong with them, and that no one has the right to convince them otherwise. Don't be cutesy about it. Don't be metaphorical. I was told growing up that "God doesn't make mistakes." This left so much open. If God doesn't make mistakes, then he must have made me defective on purpose. He must really hate me. Just be honest with your kid and keep it on their level - don't expect them to grasp obscure concepts and apply them to their situation.
2: Try to find out why the child is being bullied. Ask many, many questions to try and get to the root of the issue. Keep in mind that the responses are going to be filtered through your child, who has but one perspective. If possible, try to get more perspectives to get a broader image of what is happening. Your child will of course, be of the opinion that the bully is just out to get them, that the bully is simply a mean person. Others may tell you that your child is the antagonist. Perhaps, or perhaps not. The bottom line is, there is always more to a bully relationship than one kid being bad and the other being good.
3: Bear in mind, the bully relationship is one based on power and control. The bully may be seeking out your child for various reasons - but the notion that the bully is just plain mean is insufficient. In his book, "Protect Your Child from Bullying" Dr. Allen Beane lists these reasons for why bullies do what they do:
Although you usually cannot go to the bully directly to address these possibilities with them, explaining this to your child can help them understand that the behavior is the bullies problem - not their own. That can be so empowering to a child, who may go around wondering why this is happening to them and even begin to place the blame on themselves.
4: Talk with the parents of your childs friends, encourage their friends to stand up for the child being picked on. This isn't always possible, but it can go a long way to diffuse a bully situation if the other kids who are bystanders stand up for the child who his being bullied. Especially because bully behavior often occurs in a group setting with several kids picking on one child. Of course, this is not something most parents are able to control, however.
5: Validate your child. As written in this article, validating your childs feelings from an early age not only helps them to trust their feelings, making it more difficult for bullies to hurt them, it teaches children to trust their emotions and honor them by standing up for themselves.
6: If possible, coach your child to not react to the bully, or to react with positive emotion. Sometimes this works, but not always. Children with plenty of self-confidence make poor targets for a bully. They simply don't give up the reaction that the bully is seeking. Validation is one way to build your childs self-confidence, but there are many other ways as well. But if your child has an insecurity - and we know they all do - the bullies are going to exploit that particular thing. So even though your child is very self-assured, but embarrassed about their glasses, you may encourage them to simply fake it and just pretend that they love their glasses.
7: In the case of bullies threatening violence or if they have become physical already, don't advise your child to fight the bully. In the bullies need to dominate, even if your child were to win the physical fight, the bully would only enlist more help and find other ways to bully your child into submission. Many cases of extreme cyberbullying have come about after the bully lost a physical fight to a child they were seeking to humiliate and punish.
8: If your child has access to Internet with their own email and social media accounts or has a cellphone, and you suspect they are being cyberbullied - check those accounts regularly. Bear in mind that your child can hide from you on the Internet. Places like facebook allow users to block material they wish to keep from certain people. Also, advise your child to be picky about who they "friend" on Facebook, or give their phone number or email address to - and NEVER give their password, not even to their closest friend.
9: You can attempt to get the school involved if bullying is persistent and aggressive, but do not be surprised if you find that does not help the problem - or even - if it makes it worse. I'm not going to say too much on this. In my experience, kids are pretty good about hiding their behavior from school officials. Teachers and staff just want to get through their day, and most don't even want to deal with this sort of thing. They have been known to push the behavior under the rug, turn a blind eye, pretend it isn't happening. And when they are forced to recognize the behavior, the penalties are so extreme that often times the bullies go from a general contempt of the child to downright hatred. Now, their vendetta against your child is personal and they will not rest until they have punished your child as severely as they can.
While I do not mean to discourage a child who is being bullied to not report it, it is important to be realistic about the out come you expect. Keep a watchful eye on your child and do not expect to simply call the school and have that be the end of the situation. Even if your child is telling you everything is fine, look for signs that it isn't. If you call the school, the bully gets punished, becomes more aggressive, your child is not going to want to tell you again out of fear that your involvement will make it even worse.
10: In the case of very extreme bullying - especially if you feel your child is not safe, do not be against pulling your child out of that school. It's a fine idea and a beautiful notion to think that your child will rise up against their bullies and win. But if it's not going to happen, it's not going to happen and forcing your child to stand their ground against what can feel like a tidal wave of brutal assault that comes at them daily may cause them to crumble. There are many alternatives to public school and if your child is in distress and the school isn't doing enough - don't simply stand on your principals and do nothing because "it's the school's job". If your child is in danger, physically, mentally or emotionally, and you feel that nothing is being done about it, seek outside resources to find out what your other options are for your child.
Above all, teach your child from an early age to honor their authentic self. Let them know that they don't have to be liked by everyone, and that not being liked by some is totally normal. Give them a safe haven to come home to when things get rough. Remind them that the trouble will pass. It always does. Teach your child to be their own best friend, their advocate, and to be the type of person they like best. Then it won't matter so much if others don't like them, if they are truly happy with themselves.
"Protect Your Child from Bullying" by Allen L. Beane, PhD,
Banishing Bullying Behavior by Suellen Fried and Blanch Sosland.
Why Anti-Bully Laws Are Doomed To Fail - By Izzy Kalman
Has your child been the target of a bully? If so, how were you able to help them?