How to Support Students Bullied in School
Shainelle had hoped this school would be different. But on that cold winter day, as she rode home on the school bus, she once again found herself the victim of bullying. Just before her stop, a few of the other kids pulled her shoes off her feet and tossed them out the window. Unable to find her shoes, Shainelle was forced to walk home shoeless in six inches of snow. “I remember crying,” she recalls, “feeling broken and sorry for myself.”
She had endured bullying at her previous elementary school as well. A scalp condition causing redness and itching prompted some kids to call her names and accuse her of not washing her hair. The teasing and name-calling persisted, despite her protests and explanations. “I was so sad back then,” she says, “even now when I reflect; I can still feel how hurt I was.”
Shainelle was just one of more than 3.2 million students who are bullied in this country every year. A child who is perceived as being “different” from the other students is often a target for bullying. Those who are overweight or underweight, wear glasses, have visible physical conditions, or simply dress differently can draw unwanted attention from class bullies. Bullies also tend to pick on children who seem weak and defenseless, have few friends, are socially awkward, shy, or are already suffering from low self-esteem and depression. “The behavior of the bully-victims tends to elicit negative reactions from many students in the classroom,” according to the American Psychological Association, “and the teacher often dislikes them also.”
Bullying—which includes teasing, physical abuse or threats, rumors, and cyber insults—is prevalent in all grade levels, and it’s not an easy problem for parents and schools to address. School officials and teachers often provide programs to increase awareness and offer counselors and increased supervision in an attempt to stop the bullying. These tactics can be effective, but there are also steps parents can take. Try these tips to address and stop the problem of bullying in your family.
1. Recognize the Warning Signs
Children will often not report being bullied to their teachers or their parents for fear of repercussion from the bully or because they are embarrassed, so parents must look for clues that their children are having a problem. “Recognizing the warning signs is an important first step in taking action against bullying,” according to stopbullying.gov. Look for the more obvious signs such as if your child arrives home with bruises or other injuries or is missing some of their possessions like electronics, clothes, or jewelry. And be aware that more subtle situations could also indicate a bullying problem, such as poor grades, complaints of headaches and/or stomach pain, trouble sleeping, lack of interest in friends, intense reluctance to attend school, and depression.
2. Keep Communicating
Talk to your kids about bullying and encourage them to tell you if they have problems with being teased or hurt by other kids. Chat with them daily, asking specific questions like who they had lunch with, what they did at recess, are there any cliques at their school, and how their classes went. Speaking to them regularly about school will allow you to identify changes that could indicate bullying.
3. Stop Bullying by Reporting It
In many cases, you may want to involve school officials by reporting the bullying, especially if your child is in danger. You may speak to your child’s teacher, the principal, or a school nurse or counselor. The action school officials choose to take will vary with the severity of the problem and the age of the child. Experts usually advise against calling the bully’s parents directly, suggesting that the issue is best handled by the school. “I often hesitate to have parents talk to one another because each parent sometimes ends up defending his own child,” explains Kristie Pattison, a guidance counselor at the Marbletown Elementary School.
4. Consider the Source
As a child growing up with two older brothers, my mother would always remind me to “consider the source” when I would complain about their criticisms, because older siblings may not always have the best intentions. In the case of bullies, usually their only motivation is to cause humiliation or pain to their victim and to feel stronger as a result; they’re not interested in speaking the truth. But children may obsess over a bully’s comments and believe them to be true. As a parent, you can help put the bully’s opinions into perspective. As Eleanor Roosevelt noted, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” A bully can easily destroy a child’s self-confidence, so work with your child to encourage them not to internalize the hurtful comments but to rise above them.
5. Don’t Let Negativity Take Over
It’s a natural reaction to focus on negative comments and ignore any positive feedback. If a child is continually bullied with harmful criticism, they will fixate on the negative and begin to believe they have no value. So encourage your child by reminding them of positive comments they’ve received in the past. If another kid labels them as stupid, point out their previous good grades or how well they’ve does in their best subjects. Countering the bully’s comment can be very helpful in restoring a child’s self-confidence. Look for ways to highlight what your child is doing well, and work to build up their self-esteem.
6. Use Humor
Many comedians developed their wit as a result of being bullied as children. Turning the criticism into humor can often take some of the bite out of the insults. If possible, try pointing out the absurdity in a bully’s comment to reveal the humor to your child. This technique can be seen on Jimmy Kimmel’s “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets” series, as celebrities laugh or make fun of the critical tweets they read out loud about themselves. It may also help to remind your child that even the most well-liked, popular celebrities were bullied at one time.
7. Consider Alternative Schools
Some bullying situations are more serious than others, leading to significant emotional stress or severe physical injuries. In such cases, and especially when attempts to stop the bullying fail, changing schools may be the only option. “Online Schools are a very good alternative to consider if your child or teenager is being verbally or physically bullied in a traditional school setting,” NoBullying.com reports. “Virtual schools make it easy for kids to study without having to worry about being teased, harassed or getting beat up.”
Because of the disruptive bullying that Shainelle experienced, her parents eventually chose to enroll her in Ohio Virtual Academy (OHVA). “Based on the grades that I had gotten over the years,” Shainelle says, “I didn’t think I had it in me to succeed.” As is common with many bullied students, her grades had suffered at the brick-and-mortar schools. “My bad grades [were] a reflection of how I felt inside,” she says. Free from bullies, Shainelle flourished at OHVA, earning high grades. Her social life also improved, and she joined the Young Marines through OHVA, holding the highest rank and leading the platoon!
As was the case for Shainelle, many children who struggled with bullying in traditional schools thrive in an online environment. If your child is being bullied in school, you may want to consider switching to tuition-free* online schooling. Visit k12.com for more information about learning online or find your local virtual school.
* Families do not pay tuition for a student to attend an online public school. Common household items and office supplies like printer ink and paper are not provided.
Elizabeth Street is a writer for Learning Liftoff. For the past 20 years, she has written newsletter and website content for nonprofit and corporate organizations on such topics as the plight of children of prisoners worldwide, the lack of prenatal care for mothers in developing countries, and child mentoring programs. She has a particular interest in the importance of providing all children with a quality education regardless of their family’s financial status or background. A native of Virginia, Elizabeth is a graduate of James Madison University and loves animals, with particular fondness for her two cats, Oscar and Emmy.