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8 Ways Adults can Help in a Bullying Situation

Picture a bullying situation. See the place where it is happening, the people involved, what is being said and done. Now, here’s a question – how many people are there? Is it just the one doing the bullying and the victim? Does the one doing the bullying have a gang of friends standing around helping?

Sometimes our image of bullying is too limited. While the person doing the bullying, the victim, and even their friends are all playing a part in the bullying situation you might have imagined, they aren’t the complete story. To understand how bullying really works and, ultimately, how to stop it, we need to look at ALL the roles in a given situation.

Roles in Bullying

The first two roles are obvious: the person doing the bullying and the victim. The person doing the bullying is the one who starts up the hurtful actions, and the victim is the one who receives it. The friends going along with the first person play a role too. They are called assisters. They may jump in on the action, but they don’t start it.

But bullying doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There are always other people around. These people, the audience, are the observers. They are the ones who see what is going on but do nothing. Their lack of action may be for several reasons, one of which being they just don’t know what to do. Still, by simply being there and witnessing what is going on, the observers make things worse for the victim. When observers do more than just ignore, when they laugh, point, or encourage the behavior in other ways without participating in it, they become re-enforcers.

The final role in bullying is one we don’t always see but one we want to encourage kids to play: the helper. It’s probably obvious from the name – the helper comes to the aid of the person being bullied. There are many ways a person can do this, even ways they can stay anonymous in the process.

The Helper

Helpers can aid the victim in three main ways – 1. Get help. 2. Stand up to the person doing the bullyigng. 3. Offer support to the person being bullied. A child who runs and gets a teacher or who alerts a parent to what is going on is filling the role of helper. They may get help secretly or not so secretly. They can tell an adult not to say it was them who told, or they can leave a note where an adult will find it such as, “Grace is being bullied after school. Please tell the bus driver and the crossing guard.” No matter how the helper does it, they bring someone else into the situation who can help it stop.

A helper can also stand up to the person doing the bullying. They might tell them, “Stop… What you’re doing isn’t funny… Stop picking on Jake… You’re being really mean.” Sometimes, a child who is friends with the person who does the bullying can also act as a helper. They might help him or her walk away from the situation or try to convince them to stop. “You don’t have to do this to look cool… C’mon we have better things to do… This isn’t worth our time.”

Other times helpers come to the aid of the victim. They might help the victim walk away from the situation. Or they might also comfort the person after the incident is over.

Cyber Bullying

We’ve been looking at the roles people play in traditional bullying, but we also see those same roles in cyberbullying situations (bullying through technology – phones, tablets, computers…). The person doing the bullying is the one causing harm to another. The victim is the recipient of that harm. The assisters are the ones who add comments or join in, even kids who add “likes” or emojis. The observers are those that can see the posts but who don’t do anything. In some cases, this includes an entire student body. And the helpers can contribute online, though more often they let an adult know what is happening or take screenshots of the bullying behavior.

Why do adults need to know this?

Anyone can play the different roles in bullying. Everyone can become a target. Everyone can be the person doing the bullying or join in on the bullying behavior. Most likely, your child has played multiple roles in different bullying situations, perhaps without even knowing it. The message we need to send kids is how they can be a helper. The helper doesn’t have to do everything a helper can do. Even just one helpful action can make a big difference in a bullying situation.

Without some direction, however, many kids will never know how they can help stop bullying. As parents, we need to empower our children with tools and strategies for putting an end to bullying. Talk to your child about how they can let an adult know what is going on, what they can say to someone who is bullying another child, and how they can help a victim walk away and what they can say to offer comfort afterward.

When kids know what they can do, they are more likely to take action. Every parent should take time to talk with their child about how kids can help end bullying. Use some of the ideas we have mentioned here, or talk to your child’s school counselor for ideas on what you can say to empower your child in bullying situations.  

If your child is being bullied

No one wants to see their child (or student) being bullied. And though we may want to go all “mama or papa bear” on the person doing the bullying, there are other more constructive ways to help.

1. Remind your child that they are valuable.

No person is more or less valuable than any other. All people matter, and your child matters. Say that until they really hear the message. Tell them that no one deserves to be bullied, and no one should try to take power over another person, that what is happening to them is wrong and needs to stop.

2. Listen to your child if they come to you with a bullying concern.

Don’t just belittle their feelings or brush the situation off as kids being kids. If your child comes to you, they need your help. Even if it’s just to remind them that they are valuable and loved.

3. Tell your child that it is not their fault if they are being bullied.

It is never the victim’s fault. If your child is being bullied, encourage them to take action. Remind them that they don’t deserve to be treated that way and that there are things they can do to make the situation better. Even things that can be done anonymously. Give them the support they need to take positive action and give them direction if they don’t know what those actions should be.

4. Encourage your child to stick up for themselves.

Not with fists or mean words but with what my son’s karate teacher calls a “bad dog” voice. When your dog does something bad, you raise your voice and the dog knows you mean business. Teach kids to use their I-mean-business voice, their big voice, when they are a victim of bullying. A confident loud voice, especially one that can be heard by adults, will make the person doing the bullying take notice and listen. And it may be enough to end a bullying situation.

5. Support your child if they want to have a conversation with the otehr person one on one.

You don’t have to jump in and add anything. Just your presence will give your child strength and give some accountability to the child they are talking to.

6. If your child asks for help, help them.

But respect your child’s wishes as much as you can. If they want you to remain anonymous, do your best to do so. If they ask you not to tell, don’t show up on the baseball field and loom over the kid who is picking on your son.

7. Stay near your child if they ask.

Bullying is a lot less likely to happen if an adult is nearby. Sometimes a simple solution is enough to solve a complex problem. 

8. Remind your child that things do get better.

Right now they may feel like things will always be this way. If you have stories of being bullied when you were a child, share them with your child. Also, share how you came through it and things got better. Then help your child see a future for themselves where things are better and the bullying is no longer happening. Help them envision what that would be like and figure out one or two steps they can take to get to that place.

Putting an end to bullying

Bullying needs to stop. We can all agree on that. By educating our children about how bullying works and how they can play a role in ending it, we will give our children courage and skills that will truly make a difference. If you need help with a bullying situation, you can call the National Youth Crisis Hotline at 800-442-HOPE, where you can receive support and guidance on how best to help your child.

How have you empowered your children or students to stand up against bullying?

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