Dear Sharon,

Do you have any advice for dealing with bullies? Our son is being taunted and haunted by a group of “thugs” in his 5th grade. Do we get involved? Do we talk to the school? He’s afraid of reprisals and of being seen as “chicken” and a tattle.

Dear Concerned Parent,

I am sorry to hear that your son is having troubles with other children in his school. Unfortunately such problems are not uncommon.

Here are some suggestions I have made to Moms and Dads in these circumstances:

1. A common contributing factor to bullying is a lack of effective supervision or guidance of young people in school settings. If recurring incidences of taunting are happening on school grounds to one or more children parents often need to find out what personnel is supposed to be supervising at the particular time and place that the problem occurs.

2.Once a parent has some details and if they have a good relationship with one or more administrators or teachers they are often able to discreetly tell staff members what is going on and ask for help. Skilled school personnel can usually figure out how to intervene in ways that do not reveal the source of their information. It is important to locate people who can be discreet as a child’s fears about retribution are certainly not unwarranted.

3.It is also helpful to remember that bullies can be suffering from stress or parental absence in their homes. Once informed, schools can offer children who are “acting out” towards others guidance, support or counseling. Such services can make a difference in the short and long term behavior of the children involved.

4. Unfortunately schools do always have the resources to supervise or offer good counsel to troubled students. In this case parents can try to identify even one adult on staff who might keep an “eye out” for their child. If a child who is being targeted has a watchful teacher or counselor who can intervene when possible and/or offer a shoulder to lean on when things are tough it can help. Parents can also feel less alone with the problem if they have someone to keep in touch with on a regular basis in the school.

5.Giving support to a “victimized” child at home can also be helpful. Parents naturally become alarmed at reports of consistent taunting and teasing. It can be hard for a Mom or Dad to listen to their child recount all of the “gory” details of the incidents you describe without getting upset. However, if parents can manage to listen to stories and sympathize with difficulties in a relatively calm way it can help a child “get out the stress” and feel more relaxed at the end of a long day.

6.Sometimes parents are quick to offer solutions to complicated problems. Parental suggestions can be useful but it can also be helpful for Mom and Dad to elicit their child’s thoughts about possible ways to solve major challenges such as how to handle bullies. If Mom or Dad can help their child produce a few of their own solutions it can build their confidence and self-esteem.

7.Sometimes including adult friends, relative and other children who have witnessed or survived incidents of bullying in family discussions can help as well. “Putting a number of heads together” to generate possible solutions can produce a variety of ideas that can help.

It can be challenging for parents to sort through ways to get thoughtful help from their child’s school and/or to offer days or weeks of consistent support and encouragement to their child but this kind of ongoing attention and understanding can shift even difficult situations like bullying to a good resolution.