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Here is a step-by-step action plan to stop bullying
When your child has been bullied, especially repeatedly, it is time to construct a plan that will see the child through the crisis period.
A crisis period is defined by a period where one’s coping resources have been exhausted and a person can no longer function the way he had before.
This is a time that is most fraught with high emotion, fear, and hopelessness because there are no solutions in sight. It usually feels like nothing will work. This crisis period, which usually lasts between one and fourteen days, is considered to have passed once the child feels able to reenter the routine of the pre-crisis life.
The intensity and duration of the crisis period are determined by the amount of distress your child feels, which in some ways is a function of how you as a parent react. The crisis lasts until a plan can be found and acted upon.
There is no one-size-fits-all plan to stop bullying. It’s more of a flowchart, where you first consider the simplest, most direct solutions—and if they don’t work or aren’t acceptable to the child, you move on to the more complex solutions.
Once you’ve established that something has happened that sounds like bullying, it’s time for the child to do a little assessment to figure out if the problem needs to be acted upon, and if so, how. The following are questions the child can ask herself while in the bullying situation, and afterward when analyzing it:
6 Steps to Help Stop Bullying
1. Has this ever happened to me before? One-time events don’t always require action. Children often test out bullying behavior, without making a habit of it. If a child said something nasty or shoved your child, took away a toy, etc., but that child had never done something like that before—or they were friends before—you might chalk it up to a bad day. Children don’t have great regulation over their emotions, and they sometimes change allegiances every five minutes. The person they were fighting with this morning might be their best friend this afternoon. If there’s no immediate safety issue and no pattern of bullying established, lean toward a “wait and see” approach.
2. Does the bully know he hurt me? Does he care? We need to establish whether the other child is really bullying, testing out bullying, or not even aware of hurtful behaviors.
A boy named Jorge went to school with a boy named Owen all the way from first grade through high school. Jorge was a class comedian type, and Owen, who was overweight and a bit awkward, was often the butt of his jokes. But Jorge thought they were friends. He never actually meant to hurt Owen, and never realized that he was—he considered it friendly teasing. Owen had always laughed along with him.
It wasn’t until the end of high school that Owen threw a fit.
“You’ve bullied me ever since we were kids! You ruined my life! I’ve had it with you!” Jorge was stunned . . . and upset. If Owen had ever let him know that the teasing was hurtful and that he wasn’t really “laughing along,”
Jorge would have stopped long before it became such a sore issue. He had empathy and didn’t mean to be a bully. Members of his family often teased each other in a playful way, lobbing insults at one another without actually meaning harm.
If the other child is aware that your child was hurt (emotionally or physically), how did he react? Did he apologize or try to help in any way? If so, that’s also a sign of empathy and perhaps a sign that the child is simply “testing” bullying and is not truly a bully . . . yet.
3. Is there any way for me to laugh this off? This is a hard one for a sensitive child to answer. Almost every time, the initial answer will be no. But the more the child can learn to smile, laugh, or grin along with the bullies rather than getting upset, the more likely it is that the bullies will give up trying to get a rise out of your child.
Try to work out a scale with your child, so he can check in with himself to determine how bad this particular event really is. On a scale from 1 to 10, where 10 is the worst, how embarrassing is this event? How hurtful is the comment? If it’s below an 8, it can probably be laughed off, with some practice.
4. Am I in physical danger? If the answer to this is yes, there can’t be any “wait and see” time. Something will need to be done immediately, and it probably can’t be done alone. But it still needs to be done with the child’s understanding and consent—it’s not in your best interest or the child’s best interest to barrel through and take over the situation. If the child is in a situation where he feels physically threatened, he needs to have “escape routes” and safety nets planned. Where will he go and who will he talk to? Can he walk into the guidance counselor’s office, or the teachers’ room, or the cafeteria? Can he go into the office and strike up a conversation with a school secretary, a cool teacher, or a coach? He doesn’t need to talk to them about the bullying situation.
He can come up with any excuse he likes—questions about homework, small talk about the weather . . . whatever he likes. It helps if the adult is aware that the child may do this and the reasons for it, but the child doesn’t have to explain every time. You can even work out a code ahead of time with a “safe” office person, for example, and your child. Whenever your child comes in and talks about bad weather, the office person can take him into a safer place.
5. Do I feel powerful enough to confront the bully myself? If so, it’s just a matter of formulating a time and place, and what words and body language to use. Maybe your child doesn’t feel powerful enough to confront the bully in front of people, but if she could find a way to take the bully aside and talk to her privately, she’d be willing to try it. Maybe she could ask the girl to walk aside with her at recess, or she could approach the girl after class.
6. Can I rely on help from others? Your child may have loyal friends who just don’t know what’s happening, or don’t know how to help. They may need to hear specifically what to do: when your child needs someone to walk with, what words to say if your child is being picked on, when to get a teacher, and so on.
Maybe your child would feel strong enough to confront the bully if your child’s friends were there for backup.
Using these questions, along with other tools, children can momentarily derail the momentum of playground or classroom events and create an opportunity to assess the danger they are in and decide on a strategy to help them handle the situation if it occurs again.
These questions also help them distinguish between true bullying and one-time fights. These guides also help children begin to think about the power of the bully in relation to themselves, and whether or not they can safely take action or count on others (friends or adults) to help them. Sometimes the solution is as simple as building the child’s confidence enough to tell the bully, “Knock it off and leave me alone.” It may be as simple as standing up straight, and giving the bully a look and a hand signal that says, Hey, what’s up with that? Other times, the child will need more backup.
Overall, this plan builds on the first phase, using the information gathered during your conversations with your child to prepare and enact specific steps that will help resolve the immediate problem.