Practical advice on what to do if your child is being bullied

And what to do if it is happening in school

In the second part of our two part advices on how to deal with bullying Sally O’Reilly, a Psychologist, Psychotherapist & Clinical Supervisor who has a special interest in working with teenagers gives her advice on how to deal with bullying if it is happening in school and gives practical advice to parents on what to do if you discover your child is being bullied. Part one can be read here. 
If the bullying is on school property:
  • Make an appointment to meet the teacher or class tutor / guidance counsellor depending on the school level) and the principal, preferably together. This is to formalise things. Follow up with a summary in writing. This will let them know that you are taking this seriously and that you expect the same of them.
  • Ask for the school’s bullying policy, in writing. Ask if they have a buddy system. Suggest one if they don’t.
  • Keep a written record of everything that your child reports, and photographs (screenshots) if appropriate. Ask your child to do the same if the child is old enough.
  • While it can be very useful to approach the bully's parents, be careful. Remember that bullies learned how to bully from role models, but not necessarily a parent. If you are met with a hostile response to a reasonable question then you’ve probably learned something about where the other child learned to bully. So that route may not take you to a happy place.This is where the school might come in. Ideally, each set of parents and child need to meet with the school separately first, and preferably with a skilled counsellor/ therapist present.
  • If there are weapons or sexual assault happening then involve the Gardaí.
Wherever the bullying is happening - some practical 'to-do's':
First, for you and your child to do together:
Discuss the possibility that the bully might not change but that you have a plan.
Ask your child to act out for you what happens. This might be difficult for you to watch, but this is not about you and it’s important you remember that. Try to manage your own emotions about your own experiences and do talk about it later with a friend or a partner. But for now, focus.
Ask you child if they can imagine any other thing they could do differently next time that might be more helpful. (Not what they 'should' have done, that might trigger shame and they might already be way down that dark alley...)
Give feedback, carefully. Maybe “Oh yes, I see where you’re going with that, hmmm... can you think of anything else? That’s a good start alright”.
And now for your child to practice:
Encourage your child to ignore the bully rather than retaliate. (Walk away, don’t answer the phone, don’t reply to that text, screenshot it, then block their number, email, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, whatever). Usually, the bullying tapers off immediately when the bully is ignored because a bully cannot work without a victim.
If your child is willing to actively approach the bully him/herself here is a framework that I’ve given to many kids (and adults actually) that is effective:
  • Name what the bully has done. Be specific.(You told Laura that I broke her iPhone when it was you).
  • Name how you feel about what they’ve done.(I’m upset by that, and angry. It’s not OK.)
  • Name what you want them to do. (I want you to apologise to me and I want you to tell her it was you).
  • Name a consequence of their behaviour. This is not a threat, it’s a consequence. The bully will learn what will happen if they choose choice to behave badly.(If you don’t do this I’ll take it further).
But they gotta follow through!! Make sure they know that. If they don't the bully won't take them seriously and the behaviour will almost certainly escalate.
A practiced bully will try to deflect, distract, manipulate your child, the older they are, the better they will be at doing this. (Be aware that their parents may also do this to you). So this needs to be practiced with either you or a trusted friend, if they have one.
Teach your child about posture, eye contact and voicing. You may find that you find that challenging yourself. If that happens please feel OK about asking for help. Parenting will always trigger old hurts. It's normal.
Reward your child for helping themselves - it's empowering!
Any effort that your child makes to help themselves should be rewarded. It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture, but certainly a special treat.
In some cases of course, it doesn’t work out. The school might not cooperate, the child might find another way to get at yours, might succeed in socially excluding your child despite yours and school’s best efforts. In extreme cases, don’t be afraid to consider a change of school. If your child needs ongoing support, then do what you can to put that in place. Keep talking to them. Know who their friends are, where they’re spending time, what they’re doing online. Keep an open line of communication with their teachers. This all takes effort, but will be worth it!
Sally O’Reilly is a Psychologist, Psychotherapist & Clinical Supervisor in private practice in East Cork with twenty years’ full time experience. She has a special interest in working with teenagers. For more info contact her through her site or on Twitter @psychosal or FB Sally O'Reilly Psychology & Psychotherapy.

Sally O'Reilly

Person, Psychologist, Psychotherapist & Clinical Supervisor with special interest in adolescence. Love all chocolate equally, hate all blue cheeses - equally.

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