When you send your child back to the same school where they were bullied in the past—whether it’s the start of a new school year or returning after a winter break—it can feel like you’re throwing them back to the wolves, although you may think that wolves in real life would be more civilized than the kids who made your child miserable.
Of course, it can feel terrifying for your child to return to the place that caused them so much pain but it’s a fundamental process for them to go through. I know this can sound like the cliche “facing my bullies made me stronger,” but it can be true. Facing people who have power over you or are intimidating is one of the hardest challenges any of us experiences but doing so makes everything else a lot less daunting.
But we have to be realistic about what success in this situation looks like, so let’s start with what NOT to expect when dealing with your child’s bullying problem:
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- A movie moment where your child stands up to the bullies in front of the entire school, everyone applauds, and your child’s life is perfect from that moment on.
- Your child plots an elaborate strategy to get back at the bullies—which works perfectly, and the bullies learn never to be mean again.
- You stalk the bullies at school and/or micromanage your child’s every moment so you can be sure they’re safe and other children are being kind to them.
So what does a realistic strategy look like? Here’s my list; split between how to prepare your child to interact with other children and how to work in partnership with your child’s school.
Preparing Your Child
- Depending on your child’s age and how they like to express themselves, have them write or draw how they were feeling in school when the bullying occurred and how they are feeling now. If there is a big difference, ask them what they think the most significant reasons are for this change.
- Ask them to write down what their biggest worries are for this year. Then ask them to name at least one personal character strength they can use to address this concern.
- Ask them what they can handle on their own and what would happen where they would ask you for help. (And you have to promise your child that you won’t freak out if they do tell you.)
- Remind them that even doing this preparation can be hard and you respect them tremendously for meeting it head-on. And just doing the work they’ve already done, prepares them if something bad happens again.
Working in Partnership with the School
Don’t wait until something bad happens again to share information with educators or administrators because:
- Sharing information when you’re calm, instead of angry and scared, is a better way to go.
- Even the best administrators forget to share important information with your child’s new teacher at the beginning of the year or your child’s current teacher after the return from a break.
So what do you share with them? The facts as you know them while acknowledging that there may be essential parts of this situation that you don’t know (and that’s true—you very well may not know everything that happened). Even if you didn’t like the school’s prior response to the bullying, begin the process by approaching your child’s teacher as a partner who is competent, capable, and well-intentioned. If your child has a teacher that was part of the problem before, then request to meet with an administrator, a counselor, and the teacher to create a plan everyone is on board with.
Going through these experiences are painful—for both the child and parent. You can feel powerless when it comes to stopping people from hurting your child. But if you are there, mostly behind the scenes offering comfort, support and helping your child think through how they want to handle the problem, you are ultimately providing your child with life skills they can use when confronted with difficult, bullying personalities—no matter where they show up.
Illustration: Marie Guillard