When dealing with a bully, the worst lesson to teach your child is to hide out at home

Easier said than done.
Easier said than done.
Image: Reuters/Nacho Doce
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Bullying is one of the top concerns that parents have about their children’s safety and well-being—and it can make life a misery. A study carried out by the National Center for Social Research found that 47% of children in the UK reported being bullied at age 14, and that it is a particular problem for disadvantaged and minority groups. However, children who tell their parents are more likely to “escape” bullying. Here are five key ways to help your child:

1. Identify the signs

The signs of bullying include a child showing behavioral changes, becoming withdrawn, not wanting to go to school, or perhaps developing lots of nonspecific illnesses. If your children reveal that they are being bullied, thank them for having the courage to tell you, and explain that it is the first step to sorting out the problem.

Use your best listening skills and try not to get upset or angry. Remain calm and assure them that you will help. Ask sensitively what has been going on, what the bullying has involved, and how it makes them feel, so that you can comfort and reassure them.

It is tempting to take over, but if possible, try to consider solutions with your child and ask what he or she would prefer you to do. Bullying can reduce children’s confidence and self-esteem, so highlight their strengths and help them spend time doing whatever helps relieve their anxiety. Always remind them that you are there for them. A number of online sites offer helpful advice.

2. Understand bullying

Bullying is often defined as a repeated, deliberate action that relies on an imbalance of power. But even if something has only happened once, it is still serious if your children have chosen to report it.

Talk to them about different kinds of bullying and how it can involve not just physical harm or threat, but name calling, leaving someone out, spreading rumors, or making someone do something they do not want to do. Explain how it can involve technology and social media, and show that you know that bullying can be directed at different individuals and groups to different extents. This will help educate them to spot and understand bullying, and demonstrate your empathy for others, too.

We also need to encourage children to look out for bullying around them as the vast majority of bullying incidents involve witnesses who often do not come forward because they worry they will become victims themselves, or believe it is wrong to “tell tales” or “snitch.”

3. Don’t hit back

Encourage them not to retaliate aggressively. Fighting back may seem understandable, but it usually makes things worse and can lead to your child being hurt, laughed at, or the one who ends up being disciplined.

We need to promote more assertive approaches to managing bullying, rather than aggressive—or passive—ones. Tell them to remove themselves from the situation as quickly as they can, and to report any instances of bullying to an adult.

4. Report it

Contact the school if your child feel that he or she is unable to cope with your support alone. Talk to your child beforehand, but make it clear that this is what you must do. You may feel like talking to the bully’s parents, but this can have negative repercussions for you and your child.

Try to support the school, which will also want to stop bullying—it is best to do this together. Have an initial conversation with your child’s teacher who should also be able to involve other colleagues in helping your child through the school’s systems. Together, set out a strategy for tackling the bullying, including follow ups.

If your child tells you that he or she is being bullied, keep a diary of who did what, what they said, and note when, where, and how often it happened. Keep a record of any relevant text messages, website comments, or social media postings. But do give the school a chance to work with your child to solve the problem. If you feel the school is not doing enough, however, you may want to take the matter to the school board, or, if necessary, the local authorities.

5. Don’t let it harm their education

However difficult the situation, do not keep your child out of school, as this could make the situation worse and will mean that your child is the one who misses out. Whatever you do, remember that a graduated response is most effective in solving bullying problems.

Bullying is a serious problem in schools and wider society. It is always wrong, and we need to support schools in helping to make them a place where all our children are safe to learn and develop.

This post originally appeared at The Conversation.