Anti-Bullying Tips for Parents

Tip Sheet 11: Anti-Bullying Tips for Parents

Although some educators and individuals refer to bullying (and being bullied) as a normal part of growing up, for many children (and parents) bullying is quite simply a traumatic nightmare. This tip sheet offers ideas for dealing with this perplexing and persistent social problem in schools and neighborhoods.

1. Encourage your child to communicate openly to you about his or her bullying experiences. This will be difficult because you will instantly want to contact the bully’s parents or “beat up” the bully, neither of which is recommended.

2. Open communication includes empathy and asking your child what she or he has done to try to stop or cope with the bullying. Avoid blaming and avoid taking action on behalf of your child (unless the level of bullying aggression makes an intervention necessary and then only do so with the support of school personnel, law enforcement, or other appropriate community members).

3. Help your child understand that being bullied is not his or her fault. Although sometimes bullies increase their bullying when children react, reacting to bullies should not become a reason to blame the victim for increased bullying.

4. Help your child identify different strategies for dealing with bullies, recognizing that some strategies will work better than others for individual children. Strategies might include (a) avoiding and/or ignoring the bully; (b) hanging out with friends and not being alone and vulnerable (parents can help children develop new social connections); (c) connecting with school or community personnel who can help with bullying; or (d) using humor to defuse bullying situations. Encouraging your child to fight back is not recommended as it usually results in increased bullying frequency and longevity.

5. Use your child’s school as an ally and resource. Although you should be careful about approaching the school without your child’s permission, often school personnel will have ways to address bullying, in general, that don’t identify you or your child (and thereby increase bullying likelihood). Also, encourage your child to speak with trusted school personnel (school counselors or school psychologists are a good start).

6. Become more present and available in your child’s life. This might mean volunteering at school and even having casual, face-to-face contact with the bully (not to confront the bully, but to help make your presence in your child’s life a reality to the bully and bystanders).

This list is just a start. Additional information on how parents can help their children with bullying and other issues is available in the book, “How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen” by John and Rita Sommers-Flanagan

6 thoughts on “Anti-Bullying Tips for Parents”

  1. “Encouraging your child to fight back is not recommended as it usually results in increased bullying frequency and longevity.” Could you please cite a study (or other source) to back up this claim.

    1. Hi Gail. Good question. I’m pasting a couple of studies below. In the first study (a dissertation) “externalizing” is used to refer to aggression. The second study notes, despite the fact that victims often view retaliation as effective, that they also report more chronic or repeated bullying.

      Overall, there is a large amount of research indicating that bullying is very difficult to stop or change. This research has been used to underline the fact that multiple methods (involving bystanders, teachers, victims, and bullies) is most effective.

      Also, it’s important to be clear on the definition of bullying. Bullying is generally about power; it’s about people with more power, strength, numbers, resources, etc., picking on people with less of those things. Although I would never go so far as to say that fighting back is always ineffective or always perpetuates the problem, recommending that someone fight back must be considered carefully because, unlike in the movies, the victim is typically outnumbered and/or smaller and successful retaliation is hardly automatic. Finally, the research on the effects of retaliation or revenge stimulating further retaliation/revenge is huge and also common sense. Violence tends (but does not always) to beget violence.

      Here are a couple of studies:

      Terranova (2007) found that children bullied in fall turned to maladaptive coping in spring. Terranova also found that internalizing and externalizing coping predicted increased victimization, but only for children with a history of victimization.
      Terranova, A. (2007). Coping with peer victimization in middle childhood. Dissertation Abstracts International:
      Section B: The Sciences and Engineering,67(9-B), 5547.

      Victim strategies to stop bullying.
      Black, Sally; Weinles, Dan; Washington, Ericka. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 8. 2 (Apr 2010): 138-147.
      Abstract (summary)
      One of the most commonly recommended strategies for youth to stop bullying is to report incidents to an adult. Although reporting is preferred, ultimately, victims will use strategies that they perceive to be most effective. This study investigated victims’ strategies to stop bullying, as well as their perceptions of each strategy’s effectiveness. In all, 50% of participating school students (n=2,615) reported at least one form of victimization. The most common strategies used against bullying were fighting back (63%), ignoring the bullying (52%), telling an adult at home (44%), and reporting the abuse to a peer (42%). The most successful strategies reported were counter-aggression (75%), making a safety plan (74%), and telling a peer (71%) or an adult at home (71%). Implications for practice are for school staff to deconstruct the idea of counter-aggression as an effective strategy against violence and to improve perceptions of staff responses to victimization. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)(journal abstract)
      Respondents who fought back were also significantly more likely to report polyvictimization (14%), chronic victimization (16%), and fear (18%) in comparison to victims who did not fight back (8%, 8%, and 14%, respectively; p < .001). (pp. 142-143)

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