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Parental Responses to Bullying
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In the last section, we discussed helping parents understand the nature of the bullying a student is experiencing by discussing five types of bullying victims. These five types of victims are the one dimensional victim, the physically challenged victim, the passive loner victim, the aggressive loner victim, and the accidental victim.
In this section... we will discuss seven steps in parents objectively assess their child if they suspect their child may be involved in bullying. We will also discuss the Disarming technique for helping parents interrupt their child’s bullying behavior.
As you know from your practice, it can be very difficult for parents to objectively evaluate their child’s behavior. For parents who have reason to be concerned about potential bullying behavior, I recommend parents take seven steps in observing their child.
7 Steps for Assessing Bullying
♦ Step One: Listening
The first step I recommend is for parents to listen when the student talks about his or her friends. As you know, bullies will often put other children down just to make themselves look good. I ask parents to observe if their child speaks derogatively about others when she or he speaks about her or his day? I certainly do not advocate that parents eavesdrop on their children.
However, my client Andrew found a way to observe his daughter Lacy’s behavior when he drove Lacy and her friends home from soccer practice. Andrew stated, "I heard Lacy plotting with her friends to tease another girl in the class. When I told Lacy later that I disapproved of her behavior, she just laughed and said that the girl was annoying and deserved to be teased. I was horrified!"
♦ Step Two: Watching
A second step is for parents to watch how their child treats his or her siblings. I explain to parents that if their son or daughter teases or bullies his or her younger siblings, chances are he or she acts the same way in the classroom. My client Max had two boys, Larry, age 12, and Simon, age 8. Max stated, "I never picked up on it before, but the other day I noticed Larry demanding Simon lend him his CD player. When Simon said no, Larry started to push him around."
♦ Step Three: Talking to Teachers
In addition to listening when the student talks about his or her friends, and observing how the student treats siblings, a third step is for parents to talk to the student’s teacher, and to other parents. Clearly, teachers are good sources of information about a child’s social interactions. Additionally, other parents may have information about children who may be involved in bullying.
♦ Step Four: Monitoring the Media
A fourth step is for parents to monitor their child’s media diet. I ask parents to notice if their son or daughter is hooked on violent video games or movies. Could they be bringing the modeled confrontational attitudes to school. Or, does their son or daughter spend leisure time watching shows in which characters frequently ‘dis’ each other? Does she or he seem to admire these characters? I encourage parents who answer yes to these questions to take an opportunity to make it clear to their child how they feel about the matter.
♦ Step Five: Looking for Jealousy
A fifth step is to be on the lookout for jealousy. I ask parents to listen for indications that their child may be jealous of her or his peers. Does he or she frequently talk about what the other kids have that he or she doesn’t? How might you encourage a client to talk to his or her child about jealousy?
I encourage parents to express the message that there will always be people in life who have more, but that the best things in life cannot be bought. Sometimes, it is important to ask parents to reflect on their own behavior. As you are well aware, parents may be unconsciously modeling jealousy by frequently discussing what the family does not have, or comparing the family unfavorably to classmate’s families.
♦ Step Six: Do Not Choose Friends
In addition to listening when the student talks about his or her friends, observing how the student treats siblings, talking to teachers and other parents, monitoring the media diet, and looking out for jealousy, a sixth step is not to choose the child’s friends. I have found that some parents may be so intent on having a popular child that they push their child towards those who may be a negative influence.
Andrew stated, "I really wanted the best for Lacy. Our neighbor’s daughter is the same age, and she’s head cheerleader. I thought she was really nice, she was always polite over here. I really pushed Lacy to associate with her. Come to find out at the last PTA meeting, this girl is the ringleader for a lot of bullying at the school!"
♦ Step Seven: Signs of Affluence
A seventh step I recommend to parents is to watch for sudden signs of affluence. I explain to parents that bullies often shake down their victims. If their son or daughter suddenly shows up with new sunglasses, a new CD player, or a new jacket, for example, this should be perceived as a warning sign. Can the student’s new article be explained by birthday money from a relative, or saving his or her allowance?
Max stated, "I guess Larry does send up a lot of red flags. But what can I do about it? I can’t be there at school to check his behavior!"
♦ Technique: Disarming the Bully
I stated to Max, "You mentioned earlier that you had noticed Larry was displaying some bullying behavior towards Simon. This might be a good opportunity for you to intervene in Larry’s behavior with the Disarming technique, and teach him appropriate responses. For example, take the situation where Larry was trying to take Simon’s CD player. The next time you observe this behavior, step in immediately and point out the unacceptability of this behavior.
"Because you have pointed out that this behavior is unacceptable, it will be more difficult for Larry to get Simon to cooperate in the future. You might take Larry aside and state, ‘Larry, you’re a terrific kid, and I love you. But I do not love your bullying behavior. It has got to stop, understood?’ Next, explain to Larry that next time, he might negotiate with Simon. For example, perhaps Simon would lend Larry his CD player if Larry would play baseball with him later."
Think of your Max. Would the Disarming technique be useful to him or her?
In this section... we have discussed seven steps in parents objectively assess their child if they suspect their child may be involved in bullying. We also discussed the Disarming technique for helping parents interrupt their child’s bullying behavior.
In the next section... we will discuss six brief strategies and techniques that can help students who are usually bystanders to bullying intervene in a constructive manner.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Casey, E. A., Storer, H. L., & Herrenkohl, T. I. (2018). Mapping a continuum of adolescent helping and bystander behavior within the context of dating violence and bullying. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 88(3), 335–345.
Fu, R., Waasdorp, T. E., Paskewich, B., & Leff, S. S. (2020). Bullying perpetration among youth: The contributions of child disclosure and parent–teacher connection. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication.
Gradinger, P., Strohmeier, D., & Spiel, C. (2017). Parents’ and teachers’ opinions on bullying and cyberbullying prevention: The relevance of their own children’s or students’ involvement. Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 225(1), 76–84.
Lindstrom Johnson, S., Waasdorp, T. E., Gaias, L. M., & Bradshaw, C. P. (2019). Parental responses to bullying: Understanding the role of school policies and practices. Journal of Educational Psychology, 111(3), 475–487.
What are seven steps in parents objectively assessing their child for signs of bullying behavior?
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