After most schools in the United States were virtual learning only for most of 2021, with some even into 2022, (thanks to COVID), children in many areas of the country are returning to school bells and classrooms. The return to in-person learning also means the return to in-person bullying. The presence of school bullies has always been around, but with the advancement in technology, the methods have increased and intensified. Bullies are not only in schools and classrooms now, but they make their way into your child’s home through the internet, cell phones and social media. Being the target of bullying can impact children in different ways, depending on how your child handles situations. However, there are some things you as a parent can do to help your child view the situation, and even the bully, differently. Helping your child refocus the lenses through which they view what is happening can significantly impact how your child comes through those times.
A parent must be aware that most schools have anti-bullying policies but just having policies in place is about as effective as a speed limit preventing speeding on the highway. Parents must be aware of the implementation, or lack of implementation, of the policy at the school and understand how schools handle reports of bullying. However, being proactive at school does not always help your child handle bullying so it’s crucial you have some tools in your belt when your child becomes a victim of bullying.
1.) Get out of the dark: When we speak about bullying, most parents generally begin to think of “someone else’s child”. Most parents would never admit or recognize that their child could be a bully. If a child is a bully that does not guarantee it is the product of bad parenting. In fact, many children who are bullies come from good parents. Environmental factors at school or society could lead them to feel they are superior in one way or another to their peers or a group of their peers. If your child refuses to take responsibility for their actions and begins to blame others, then that could be a red flag for you to take notice. If they lack empathy for a particular classmate, have a sense of always needing to be in control, or put off a sense of arrogance or sinful level of pride then all those are warning signs your child could be a bully or has the potential to become a bully. In addition, similarly to children who are victims of child abuse, if your child has been a bully in the past then that increases the likelihood that he/she will become a bully. Bullying is, in fact, a form of abuse and therefore has similar results on the victim as other forms of child abuse. If you feel your child is being a bully to another child it is your responsibility to take action to protect the bullied child. You should address the actions with your child, speak to the parents and child being bullied to learn the extent of it, and take proper disciplinary actions at home to ensure your child understands that behavior is not acceptable.
2.) Recognize your child is a victim: Although most parents would hope their child would talk to them if they are being bullied, the majority of children do not tell their parents. Parents should be on the lookout for signs their child is being bullied. Some, but not all, signs may include your child coming home with torn clothes, bruises, or missing books or other belongings. Your child could be coming home hungrier than usual, does not have a lot of friends they hang out with on a regular basis, seems to be avoiding school and school activities, makes excuses for not going to school such as regularly complaining about being sick, having a headache, etc. Other signs may be that they are moody, seem depressed, and seem to be withdrawing and spending most of their time alone. If you believe your child may be a victim of bullying, then talk to them. It is helpful not to directly ask them if they are being bullied but begin by asking them if they have friends they like at school, if they have classmates they don’t like and why they don’t like them, or who are they sitting with at lunch, etc.
3.) Teach your child to be prayerful: “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45) Our Lord instructs us to pray for our enemies. When you teach your child to pray for those who are bullying him/her then you begin showing them a new way to look at others. By shifting the focus to praying for the bullies, praying for them to love others, praying for them to come to Christ as Lord, praying for them to repent and seek forgiveness, then you teach your child that every life has value (even the bully). When your child learns to pray for those who are bullying him/her then it creates a lifestyle of praying for those he/she encounters throughout the rest of their life. It also teaches your child how to pray for those they disagree with and how to see others through the eyes of Christ – with compassion and love.
4.) Remind your child they are not alone: Use the Bible and stories of the saints to help your child understand they are not alone. Some great examples of Bible stories to show your child how to respond to bullies can begin in the Old Testament with Joseph and his brothers beginning in Genesis 37. The story shows how Joseph was mistreated, abused, and bullied by his own brothers, even to the point of leaving him to die and then selling him as a slave. However, Joseph shows love and forgiveness in the end toward his brothers. He, in fact, saves their lives when they were willing to take his. In the New Testament we see many examples, including Jesus himself as he prays for and asks for forgiveness for those who are even killing him while he is hanging on the cross in Luke 23:24. In Acts 16:23-40, we see where St. Paul and Silas were jailed and throw in prison with their feet in shackles. They were freed by God but they show kindness to the jailer who kept them in prison by working to save his life and encouraging him not to kill himself. St. Meinrad was warned in a dream of his death and the two people who would kill him. When those men arrived to kill St. Meinrad, he welcomed them and held Mass for them. He even cooked a meal for them and fed them knowing they would kill him.
Parents will not be able to put a complete stop to bullying. The important thing this school year, and every year, is to be aware of signs your child is either a bully or is being bullied and then take action to stop it.