Food for Thought: What you can do about bullying

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Last week I wrote an article about Understanding bullies.

Bullying is systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt and/or psychological distress on an individual.

During the past decade, bullying has become more lethal and has occurred more frequently than it had in the last two decades. It is no longer just child’s play but can be a terrifying experience that school children face every day.

This week I would like to address several things you and your child can do if s/he is being harassed by a bully.

When Students Are Being Bullied They Can:

1. Be firm and clear - look the bully in the eye and tell the bully to stop.

2. Get away from the situation as quickly as possible.

3. Compliment the bully for the bad behavior and ask them to do it more.

4. Agree with the bully. This will confuse him/her.

5. Act like the bully wants you to feel. THEN stop and explain. (Start to cry and then ask if that is what s/he wanted you to do. Have fun.)

6. Use an “I” message. I feel _____ when ______ and I want ____. (“I feel hurt when you call me names and you need to stop.”)

7. Agree with a smile. (“Thanks for sharing that. You can say that again”)

8. The broken record. (“I hear you” answered to every comment.)

Practice these suggestions with your child and if it still persists read on.

What Parents Can Do If Your Child Is Being Bullied

1. If there are cuts and bruises, or if there is damage to clothing or possessions take photographs.

2. Without overreacting, convey to the child that you are angry about the bullying. Be sympathetic about the problem and assure the child that you will take appropriate action. Never blame your child or tell him to fight back.

3. Do not promise to keep the incident secret. Explain this protects the bully who is counting on the child to remain silent.

4. Find out what, when and where it happened, who was involved and if there were witnesses. Ask what response your child made and whether the incident is one of a series.

5. Make an appointment with the school principal or staff member who handles parent complaints. Give them a written report of the bullying incident. Make detailed notes of the reaction of the school personnel to your complaint. Include names, staff position and dates. Ask the school what appropriate steps they intent to take.

6. Contact the parents of the bully. Some will react in a concerned and cooperative way and will make reparations for the damaged possessions, but many will not. In the latter case, point out what has happened is an assault, that you have reported the bullying to the school, and that it could become a matter for the police.

7. If neither the parents or the school personnel show appropriate concern followed by action, go higher in the school administration. If this proves unsuccessful, send a copy of the report of all events and photographs to the police for their files and advise them you are seeing a lawyer. If money is a problem, low cost legal help is available in most towns.

8. Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1992, schools have a legal responsibility to ensure that a non- hostile and safe environment is available to all students.

Even though these situations are very distressful remember a parent who is angry and threatening to other parents or school personnel solves nothing and makes life more difficult for his or her child. Be calm and reasonable even if others are not.

Further, parents who punish their children for not fighting back physically are adding to their child’s problems. Unfortunately, the parent who engages bullying behavior often exhibits this behavior toward the school and his/her child.

Bullying can no longer be explained away as a normal part of growing up. Bullying has only harmful effects for the target, the perpetrator and even the bystander.

Many children in our schools are robbed of their opportunity to learn because they are bullied and victimized daily.

Bullying extracts a terrible toll on children and the scars can last a lifetime.

Bullying has also been responsible for children committing suicide.

— Dr. Leta A. Livoti Ph.D, LCSW, LCPC is a psychotherapist in Thompson Falls.

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