Bullying

Dear Sharon,

I’m concerned about the girl bullying that’s going on at my daughter’s middle school. Recently my daughter was physically threatened by a “group” of girls and she is afraid. She won’t let me do anything about it, like speak to the administration or the girls or their parents. She is afraid of retribution and they have effectively “silenced” her with their intimidation. Do you have any ideas for us? She is very open and honest with me, but the information has left me helpless and I don’t know how to proceed.

Thanks!

Dear Parent,

Unfortunately “girl and boy bullying” is not uncommon, especially during the middle school years. Many parents feel helpless as they try different ways to support their child through such times.

Here are some ideas I have shared with parents who have been in your situation.

It is not uncommon for teens and pre-teens to want to “handle” difficulties in school without help from adults. No child this age wants to be singled out for any reason especially for being a “tattle tale.” Even so whenever possible I suggest that parents try to enlist some adult help. Of course discretion and confidentiality are important to keep in mind as you look for assistance, as the retribution you mentioned in your question is often a real possibility.

Bullying usually doesn’t affect just one child and prudently talking to other parents at the school to see if other children have been affected can sometimes be helpful. If enough other parents are concerned there might be a way to get the administration’s attention without singling out one child.

If there is not a group of concerned, active parents people I know have confidentially approached a trusted teacher or staff member and asked if they can keep their eyes open and intervene.

Solidifying a child’s social circle can also help. A child is sometimes less likely to be a target if they “hang” with a large, tight group. If parents have a party for their child’s close friends or increase the number of sleepovers and play dates it can help makes social circles bigger and stronger. Good friends usually don’t like to see anyone they care about being hurt.

Children who resort to bullying are sometimes suffering from serious home problems and taking out their stress on other children. At other times they are caught up in confusing behaviors that might be easily contained. If the parents of the children involved are members of a group of parents you know well then you could contact them to talk and brainstorm solutions. It is very important (essential in fact) that you can trust the parent involved to make the situation better not worse.

I often suggest that parents spend extra time with a child who is “under attack” from schoolmates. Especially when a child is willing to “open up” they need plenty of time to recount all the details of what is going on. Of course it is often hard for justifiably upset parents to listen without having their own emotions take center stage; but if a child gets to talk, cry or rant and rave about a bully without excessive advice or worry from Mom or Dad it can help them begin to relax and recover.

Parents should also spend part of this extra time doing whatever would give their child peace of mind at home. Back rubs, favorite foods, warm baths and special treats all can help. When a child has been the object of mean behavior the company and care of a loving parent can be very reassuring.

It is wonderful when a daughter or son can be open and honest with a parent. Whenever a communicative relationship exists at home even the most stressful situations are much easier for a young person to handle. If you keep putting time and attention on the issue you and your child will weather this storm together.