When you discover your child is being bullied, you may feel a variety of emotions, from anger to fear to sadness. These reactions and emotional responses are natural for parents who want their child to feel valued, protected, and loved. To become an effective advocate for your child, it is important to acknowledge your emotions and then focus on developing an action plan to help your child.
When you first talk with your child about bullying, be prepared to listen without judgment, and provide a safe and supportive place where your child can work out his or her feelings. Children may not be ready to open up right away as they, too, are dealing with the emotional effects of bullying and may be feeling insecure, frightened, vulnerable, angry, or sad. When your child begins to tell their story, just listen and avoid making judgmental comments. It’s important to learn as much as possible about the situation, such as how long the behavior has been happening, who has been involved, and what steps have been taken. Encourage your child to talk, and let them know they are not alone and you are there to help.
Make sure your child knows:
After hearing your child’s story, empower them to create an action plan to help stop the bullying. Talk with your child about ways you can support them as well as intervention strategies they can use, such as working with the school or advocating on their own. Creating a plan that works with your child’s strengths and abilities can help build self-confidence and resilience. Make sure to share these agreed-upon strategies with those involved in your child’s life, such as teachers, coaches, and other adults who interact with your child on a daily basis.
Reactions to Avoid
Check your state’s legislation on bullying. Each state has different laws and policies on bullying, along with requirements on how schools should respond. Visit StopBullying.gov to find out the laws your state has put in place. Also, check your state’s Department of Education website for a state Safe Schools Office, which can be a great local resource to learn more about your state and school’s policy. You may also want to look up your child’s school’s policy on bullying.
In addition to being supportive and empowering your child to write down a plan, it can be very helpful to document the steps that you plan to take or have already implemented. Written records provide a history of incidences and responses, which can be very helpful when addressing the issue with school administrators or law enforcement. You should also create a strategy for how to involve others that can help your child. This might include determining who you will contact at school, what you plan to ask them, and how you will be involved. Other options include contacting a guidance counselor or other health professionals for advice. If the situation doesn’t change, your plan might include steps to contact local law enforcement or legal counsel.
Bullying touches many lives and it might be happening to others in your child’s school or community. You can help by raising awareness through community events, attending workshops or trainings in your community, or sharing information with others.
Studies have found that children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their nondisabled peers. Parents, educators, and other adults are the most important advocate that a student with disabilities can have and they play an important role in these bullying situations.
Bullying and Harassment of Students with Disabilities - Top 10 Facts for Parents, Educators and Students This handout provides an overview of important facts about students with disabilities and bullying for parents, educators, and students.
Bullying and Disability Harassment in the Workplace: What Youth Should Know Bullying doesn’t just happen at school – it can also happen at work. Help your teen learn what to do if they’re being bullied in their workplace.
As a parent of a student with disabilities, it’s important to know about the federal laws and resources specifically designed for your child’s situation. Parents have legal rights when their child with a disability is the target of bullying or harassment related to their disability. According to a 2000 Dear Colleague Letter from the Office of Civil Rights, “States and school districts also have a responsibility…to ensure that a free appropriate public education (FAPE) is made available to eligible students with disabilities. Disability harassment may result in a denial of FAPE under these statutes.” Under these federal laws, schools are required to respond to harassment or bullying of a student with a disability. The school must provide immediate and appropriate action to investigate, communicate with targeted students regarding steps to end harassment, eliminate any hostile environment, and prevent harassment from recurring. If the school is not taking necessary action, parents may consider filing a formal grievance with the Office of Civil Rights.
The Individualized Education Program (IEP) can be a helpful tool in developing a bullying prevention plan for students with disabilities. Remember, every child receiving special education is entitled to a free, appropriate public education (FAPE), and bullying can sometimes become an obstacle to receiving that education. The IEP team, which includes the parent, can identify strategies that can be written into the IEP to help stop bullying. When appropriate, it may be helpful to involve the child in this decision-making process.
IEP and Bullying Students with disabilities who are eligible for special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) will have an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which can be a helpful tool in a bullying prevention plan. This handout provides more information on the IEP and bullying.
Peer Advocacy This is a program designed to train students to speak out on behalf of other students with intellectual or developmental disabilities. It is a unique approach that empowers students to protect those targeted by bullying and to provide social inclusion opportunities.
Helpful Resources for Students with Disabilities Books, videos, and stories are powerful ways to share messages of inclusion, acceptance, and understanding. We’ve compiled a variety of resources that you can share with your classroom and follow up with thoughtful group discussion.
Many parents are surprised to learn that their child is showing bullying behavior. Often, they have no idea that their child is exhibiting these behaviors. If you find out your child is bullying, it’s important to know that bullying is a behavior and that behavior can be changed. Students bully for many reasons, including peer pressure or being bullied themselves. Your child may not realize how much they are harming someone, what impact their actions are having on another child, or they may not label their behavior as bullying.
The first step is to talk with your child about why they are bullying. This conversation should allow your child to explore how they may be feeling, to speak up if they are being bullied by someone else, and to talk about other factors that may be leading to this behavior.
What If Your Child IS the Bully? Could your child be bullying others? Would you know? Once you found out, would you know what to do? Here is some information that can help.
Help your child understand how others feel when they are bullied and let them know that everyone’s feelings matter. Role playing can be helpful to teach your child different ways of handling situations, along with helping them understand how their behavior is impacting someone else.
What Do You Do if Your Child Bullies? Seeing your child as the victim of bullying behavior can be heartbreaking. But so can witnessing your child bullying another. So what do you do?
Be patient with your child as they learn new ways of handling feelings and conflict. Provide praise and recognition when your child handles conflict well or finds a positive way to deal with their feelings. This type of positive reinforcement goes a long way!
Parents of Elementary School Students
Visit PACER’s Kids Against Bullying website with your child and check out the following page:
Parents of Middle and High School Students
If your teen is demonstrating bullying behavior, encourage them to visit PACER’s Teens Against Bullying website and check out the following pages:
Nearly 60 percent of bullying situations end when a peer intervenes, giving students an important role in bullying prevention. However, many students are unsure how to take the first step. As a parent, it’s important to have the discussion with kids and teens about the power they have to help others.
The simplest action parents can guide their children to take is not to join in the bullying. This sends the message that they don’t agree with what’s happening and takes attention away from the person bullying. Your child can also help by telling an adult about the bullying, since the student who is being bullied might not be able to do it themselves. When discussing this action with your child, it is important to emphasize the difference between telling and tattling. Telling is done to protect yourself or another student from getting hurt, whereas tattling is done to purposely get someone in trouble.
Finally, one of the most effective steps you can encourage your child to take is to show support for the student being bullied. Ask your child how they would feel if they were being bullied, and how they would want someone to support them. They can show support by talking to the student being bullied, telling them that what happened wasn’t okay, or inviting the student to join them in an activity. There are many effective options, so encourage your child to do what feels right for them.
Parents of Elementary School Students
Visit PACER’s Kids Against Bullying website with your child and check out the following pages:
Parents of Middle and High School Students
If your teen witnesses bullying, encourage them to visit PACER’s Teens Against Bullying website and check out the following pages:
The student action plan is an opportunity for your child to develop a strategy to change their current bullying situation. This can be done on their own or with the help of a parent or teacher.
As a parent looking for solutions, it’s important not only to be informed, but also to have a plan. Whether your child is being bullied, witnessing bullying, or bullying others, you can help them create a plan to change their situation.
PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center offers this free, downloadable plan that can be used to help your child think through their situation, to talk through how they think it could be different, and to identify the steps needed to make it happen.
In addition, these guides are helpful for talking with your child about bullying and what they can do to change the situation:
These visually friendly, age-appropriate guides provide helpful information on bullying to early learners:
Middle and High School
Are You Being Bullied? Quiz Bullying can happen to anyone and it’s not always easy to recognize. This quiz helps teens recognize what bullying is and if it might be happening to them.
Middle and High School Students – Bullying 101: Guide for Middle and High School Students A visual, age-appropriate 14-page guide with easy-to-understand information. The guide provides the basics for talking with teens about what bullying is and isn’t, the roles of those involved, and tips on what teens can do to address bullying situations.
True or False: If your child is being bullied, you should avoid directly confronting the student bullying your child or their parents.
True. A normal gut response from parents is to try to fix the situation and remove their child from harm. For example, a parent might call the parents of the student who is bullying, or directly confront the child who is bullying. Remember, when children tell a parent about bullying, they are looking for the parent to guide them to a solution that makes them feel empowered. Involve them in the process of determining next steps. Calling the other parent or directly confronting the bullying student has been shown to be ineffective.
True or False: Students with disabilities are less likely to be bullied than their nondisabled peers.
False. Studies have found that children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their nondisabled peers. Parents, educators, and other adults are the most important advocate that a student with disabilities can have and they play an important role in these bullying situations.
True or False: Children who bully will always bully.
False. If you find out your child is bullying, it’s important to remember that bullying is behavior and that behavior can be changed. Students bully for many reasons, including peer pressure or being bullied themselves. Your child may not realize how much they are harming someone, what impact their actions are having on another child, or they may not label their behavior as bullying.
True or False: It’s doesn’t make a difference whether or not the students who witness bullying join in.
False. The simplest action parents can guide their children to take is not to join in the bullying. This sends the message that they don’t agree with what’s happening and takes attention away from the person bullying.