Although school is supposed to be a place where kids feel safe and supported, for some children the school day is torturous and riddled with hurt and pain because they are being bullied. In the long term, being a subject of relentless bullying can have a devastating impact on a young person’s physical and mental health as well as their academic performance.

As a parent, it’s difficult to watch your child being tormented or to learn that they have been hiding from you the fact that they are being bullied. But your support is key both in helping your child cope with their pain and in making sure that the situation is addressed at school.

Listen and Support

First and foremost your job is to open the lines of communication with your child. They need to feel safe about coming to you; that you won’t judge them or make the situation worst for them.

1. Maintain calm – Hearing that your child is being bullied is upsetting. But instead of reacting immediately with your feelings, stay calm and hear your child out. The situation may be serious that they need your help with. Or, your child is handling it but just needs to vent. In either case, don’t freak out.

2. Practice effective listening – Again, hear your child out and avoid asking questions like “what did you do to cause it?” You also don’t want to interrupt, criticize, or minimize what your child has experienced. Instead, focus on what they are saying and encourage them to keep talking.

3. Express sympathy – Something as simple as, “I am sorry this is happening to you” goes a long way in signaling to the young person that the dynamics they have described are not just a “normal” part of growing up.

4. Assure them that it is not their fault – Your child needs to know that they aren’t doing anything wrong.

5. Acknowledge their courage – Bullying is hard to talk about. Kids often keep silent because they are worried that the adult’s response will make it worse or that they will be encouraged to fight back when they are too scared to do anything. Praise your child for speaking up. Let them know you appreciate how difficult it is.

6. Follow-Up – Following up with a child after a conversation about bullying is critical. Just as bullying is not marked by a single act of cruelty, neither can one helpful conversation between an adult and child usually solve the entire problem.

Take Action

1. Ask your child how they want to handle the situation. Avoid taking over and trying to fix things for your child. It is empowering for them if they have a voice and role in stopping the bullying. Help them consider the different options.

2. Assure them that you will help them. No matter what your child wants to do, they should know that you will help them manage the situation. Even if they don’t want you to intervene at this point, it is important that they can be confident that you will be there to support them when they need you.

3. Help your child problem-solve. It’s not up to a child to prevent their own bullying, but it can be helpful to have strategies in place for how to address it and potentially help stop it from escalating. These may include:

  • Creating a list of responses to bullying behavior such as “back off,” “leave me alone,” “Yeah, whatever” and walking away.
  • Disarming a bully with humor
  • Roleplaying possible scenarios
  • Identifying trusted peers to be with at recess or lunch
  • Deciding when it’s time to approach an adult

5. Work on building your child’s self-confidence. Bullies tend to target children who already have low self-esteem. Encourage hobbies, extracurricular activities, and social situations that bring out the best in your child. Remind your child about the unique qualities you love about them and reinforce positive behaviors that you’d like to see more.

4. Partner with your school. If your child fears for their safety or has been threatened, do not delay contacting school officials. Find out what they will do to help and be persistent in following up. If your school does not have effective bullying strategies and policies in place, talk to the principal and advocate for change.