Stories of the school bully extorting lunch money from the kids who were smaller and more timid are common. Parents are also aware of the “mean girls” who start rumors for fun just to make other girls cry. What is a parent to do if their child is the victim? What if you discover your child is the bully? According to experts, these are things parents need to be aware of and here are some tips on how to handle these situations.

Bullying in school is common and widespread. If your child is a victim, reassure them that they are not alone. Let them know that you understand their pain or fear is very real and there are lots of tools available to make the situation better.

A parent needs to honestly evaluate the situation. A certain level of teasing is normal between siblings and friends. It must be determined if the boundary has been crossed between playful and hurtful. Real bullying is an ongoing form of mental, verbal or physical torment. It can take on forms from name-calling to threats, shoving or shunning, or even taking someone’s possessions by threat of violence.  Modern bullying can involve abusive messages or embarrassing photos posted on social media as a way to elicit an emotional response.

As a parent, once you establish a pattern of bullying behavior, it is important to take action. Long term bullying can be damaging to a child’s developing sense of self-worth. Some of the worst case scenarios can be found in the headlines of news agencies that report such terrible outcomes as suicide or school shootings. The time for parents to think this is a normal part of growing up and the kids should just tough it out are over. Now is the time to take bullying seriously.

Why does this happen? Shouldn’t kids be kind and innocent and naïve? Yes and no. Not all kids are raised in homes where good values are taught. Some children learn to value power and strength and respond aggressively to those they perceive as weaker than themselves.

Often, kids are acting out what they have learned by example. These are the children that grow up in abusive home environments. They themselves may be the victim of abuse or they may witness the abuse of others.

Signs to look for if your child is a victim of bullying are:

  • Physical signs such as bruises
  • Anxiety
  • Behavioral changes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Moodiness
  • Avoidance of routine situations (like riding the schoolbus)

If you suspect your child is a victim of bullying, have a conversation on the subject. Explain what bullying is all about. Assure them that it is not their fault. Encourage your child to seek assistance through a school counselor. If they choose not to, continue to monitor the situation and if it seems serious, take the initiative and schedule a conference with someone in school administration who can help. If you believe your child’s safety may be in jeopardy, it is then advised to contact law enforcement to find out if there are local community laws that could offer protection for your child.

The best advice a parent can give their child on how to respond to a bully is simply to not respond. Often, if a bully cannot get the satisfaction of an emotional response from a potential victim, they become bored and move on to someone else. Other tips to offer a child who is dealing with a bully are:

  • Use a buddy system in the halls, riding the bus, or going to lockers or bathrooms. Bullies tend to select the weakest, easiest victim. Running solo ups your child’s chances of being victimized.
  • Remain calm. Bullies thrive on drama. The best reaction is no reaction. Laughing or smiling may actually taunt the bully and make things worse. The best thing for a kid to do is seem absolutely bored with the whole situation and respond in a boring manner.
  • Inform adults. Whoever your child trusts, that is who they should tell. It can be a teacher, the nurse, a counselor or coach.

What if you discover your own child is the bully? First, get over the shock and accept a very difficult and heartbreaking truth. Then, get your child the help they need.

  • Let your child know that such behavior is absolutely unacceptable and there will be specific consequences if it happens.
  • Educate your child on the value of respecting differences, being kind to others and having empathy for those who are weaker or disadvantaged.
  • Find out who your child hangs out with. Play the video games they play to see if bad influences are programmed within the game. Stick your nose into any social media profiles they are active on. Know the parents of your child’s friends and their values.
  • After being clear about the consequences of the wrong choice, also clarify positive consequences of making the right choices.
  • Most importantly, live the right values.

Whether your child is the victim or the bully, don’t hesitate to step in and help your child. If you find yourself overwhelmed, seek the help of a certified counselor. You are taking the steps to help your child develop in a healthy manner and equip them for success.