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Strategies for Communicating Effectively With A Child That’s Being Bullied By Tisha Marina Bernard

bullied_3_sqRosie always had a great relationship with her daughter Sasha. They were always the best of friends and were now even closer as Sasha entered her teen-age years. They hung out together, laughed together, and had great communication. Sasha knew she could talk to her mother about anything and did. One day Rosie received a phone call from Sasha’s school saying that Sasha had been in a fight. Sasha was a peaceful, loving and shy young lady, so this call was completely out of the norm. Rushing down to the school, Rosie met with the principal and Sasha. It turned out Sasha was in a fight but she was not the instigator, she was the one being beat up. Both Rosie and the principal discovered that Sasha had been harassed on a daily basis by three girls since the start of the school year. They called her names, followed her around at school, started rumors about her and threatened they would beat her up. Today was the day the threat became real.

Shocked, Rosie and Sasha headed home. Rosie asked the question that had been on her mind the whole time. “Why didn’t you tell me? You always tell me everything.” Sasha’s answer was quick and simple. “I didn’t want you to worry Mom.” Sasha shared she had been concerned that her mom would worry if she told her and knew that her mom was having a hard time at work lately. Sasha was also scared that if her mom called the school to try to make it stop and the girls found out, they would only harass her more. She didn’t know what to do so she kept it all inside.

Sadly, this is a can be common position for kids these days. This story shows that telling a parent can be intimidating for a child regardless of how amazing the relationship is. It is not the necessarily the fault of the parent and not always to be taken personally.

A few reasons kids do not tell their parents when they are being bullied are:

Have thoughts that no one will believe.
If a kid has reported bullying to a teacher or parent and been told, “Get over it, toughen up or kids will be kids”, that may very well be the last time they report an incident. Kids themselves often don’t know that rumors and verbal mistreatment is a form of bullying. The repercussion of this can be that a child believes their problem is not really a problem and needs to just work it out on their own. As a result, they stay quiet since they feel that sharing wouldn’t do any good.

Kids are scared the bully will get revenge.
Kids often believe that exposing their bully won’t change anything and no one can do anything about it. In fact, the worry is that the bully will only bully them even more.

They feel shame and humiliation.
Bullying feels personal to the victim and is about power and control. As a consequence, it can make the victim feel weak and/or powerless. If the victims are being bullied because of something they already feel vulnerable about, the victim may even start to believe the negative things they are being bullied for. They may even begin to believe they deserve the mistreatment.

Fear of being branded a snitch.
When it comes to bullying, there is an unspoken school wide culture of silence among the students. The secret code is to not “tattle tale” or “snitch” if they are being bullied. There is a peer pressure to accept the mistreatment in order to belong. Often, they are more afraid of these labels and the reputation that comes with them than the actual bullying itself. It is important as a parent or guardian to discuss the power of these words and what they really mean.

Worried adults will restrict access to social media.
When it comes to the digital age, kids often wont admit they are being bullied as they are worried their parents will no longer allow them to use their cell phones or other devices. If a child reports cyber-bullying and their access to electronic devices is taken away, they will conclude it is not worth it to tell an adult. They may also feel as if they are being punished which can send a mixed message. It is better to come up with guidelines and strategies to the cyber bullying versus what can feel like punishment to the child.

Remember as a parent to not take it personal if your child doesn’t share immediately with you what is going on. Remember there may be a list of other reasons regardless of how open and communicative your relationship may be. Be gentle and patient. Do your best to regulate your own emotions. When you hear that your child is being harassed at school, the parental animal instinct to protect will arise. Hold on to that; yet hear what your child needs to share before taking immediate action. Define what bullying is to your family. Perhaps make anti-bully guidelines for your own home. Research what the anti-bully rules are for your child’s’ school. Most of all help your child to stay confident, loved and worthy. They are key ingredients to getting through these hard times.

Guidelines on how to effectively respond when your child tells you they are being bullied.

1. Check in:

“Sasha, I would like to connect and talk with you about something.”

2. State information:

“I am noticing that you no longer want to stay after school for some of your favorite activities. I also remember you sharing me that you were being teased and bullied at school. Are these related?”

3. Ask for facts:

“Can you please share with me what is going on? I am not mad or upset, I just want to help you.”

4. Demonstrate empathy and compassion:

“That has got to be really hard to deal with everyday. Thank you for being so brave to share this with me. I know that was probably hard as well. I see why you are struggling and I would probably feel the same way you do in this situation.”

5. Reflect and paraphrase the issue:

“I am hearing that there are three girls who tease and bully you everyday. You are tired of it and don’t want to participate in your after school activities anymore. I completely understand. At the same time, we need to come up with a solution, as I need to have you somewhere safe until I can pick you up after work.”

6. Collective problem solving:

“Sasha, do you have any solutions you can think of? We need to come up with one and I want you to have a say in it. As your parent, I will need to take some action, yet I want you to know you have a voice in your own life.”

7. Offer ways to support:

“Would you like some help talking to the principal/and or the teachers? Do you need support in finding ways to stand up to the teasing? What other activities can we get you involved in to maybe avoid the girls all together?”

It is very important as a parent that if you choose to seek help to end bullying from the school and/or other parents involved that you communicate that action with your child first. If your child shows up at school and discovers unexpectedly that the information had been reported, this can break the lines of trust. This may put the children in a position to deal with the repercussions on their own without preparation. Sometimes the child just wants to be heard. You as the parent will always know the best time to step in and intervene.

To hear from the youth themselves, I recently asked a range of Elementary to High School kids the following question:

“If you could tell parents advice about how to respond if their child is being bullied, what would you tell them?”

“Home school them if you can.” Nicki, 10

“Tell your kid that they can talk to you anytime about bullying. Then call the principal and tell them so they can help you at school.” Reyanna, 11

“Try to teach your kids how to stand up for themselves.” Abbey, 11

“Don’t just tell them to stand up for themselves or get over it. Help them.” Casey, 13

“Don’t just call the parents of the bully without telling you. It makes it worse.” Marcus, 13

“If you can, move your child to a different school” Elina, 15

“Don’t get mad at your kid if they tell you they are being bullied. Just listen to them.” Joshua, 16

Further resources:
Parent’s Guide to Preventing and Responding to Bullying by Dr. Jason Thomas
The Bully, The Bullied, and the Bystander by Barbara Coloroso
When Your Child Is Being Bullied: Real Solutions for Parents, Educators & Other Professionals by Jacqui E. DiMarco Marie K. Newman


Tisha Marina Bernard_sqTISHA MARINA BERNARD has a Master’s Degree in Human Development with an emphasis on Social Change & Human Services. She is the founder of the I Choose Peace Academy, whose educational mission is to empower young leaders with the courage, compassion, and leadership skills to create peace within themselves and their peers.

As a bully prevention specialist, Tisha has worked with hundreds of schools across the nation to help create a safe school environment. She is also the recipient of the 2009 Season for Non-Violence Local Hero Award from the Common Peace Center for the Advancement of Non-Violence.

An avid hooper and featured artist in the documentary The Hooping Life, she also uses dance and dance education as a vehicle for social change. More information on her work can be found at