Help for parents of kids dealing with bullying

Fast reaction can harm more than help; a thoughtful response is the only way to go.

By Anne Collier

“When a child mentions schoolyard dialog that sounds almost surreal, or reveals an eyebrow raising text message and asks, ‘ok, so what would you say to THIS?’ I want to be able to apply calm, social emotional learning rather than have analysis paralysis with stunned, kneejerk reactions to blunt, crude one-liners, thinking ‘wth? did they really just say that? Yougawdabekiddinme’ More often than not I end up head-shaking ‘I have no response for that’ with awe-struck incredulity. So clearly, I have work to do too,” wrote parent and media-literacy expert Amy Jussel in her thoughtful roundup of resources at for parents and educators helping kids deal with social aggression. That’s how so many parents and educators feel (and certainly always have felt) when a hurt child comes to them about bullying behavior – and the good news is, an uncertain, open-ended approach is actually best. Fast reactions can hurt more than help, because each incident – so individual in terms of who’s involved and why – is often only a snapshot of a chain of reaction or a school’s social milieu (in which aggressors have often been targets themselves). How could any parent or administrator know exactly how to proceed without understanding what’s involved? A thoughtful response involving a lot of listening is an intelligent response. I’m remembering a wise juvenile judge’s statement that “zero tolerance equals zero intelligence,” blanket reactions, disciplinary measures, and policies fitting nicely in the zero tolerance category.

We need to “ramp up Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and digital citizenship in an effort to not just squash ‘bullying’ but PREVENT it,” Amy writes. Among other great resources her article links to author and educator Annie Fox’s new Raymond and Sheila ibook Are You My Friend? for ages 4-8 (ibooks are for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch), Amy’s sidebar on what social-emotional learning is for people new to the subject, and another look at author and bullying expert Rosalind Wiseman’s SEAL Steps. I was pleased that she grabbed my transcription of Rosalind’s explanation of SEAL in an interview she gave Annie Fox in February 2010. It’s the answer to “ok, so what would you say to THIS?” if your child brings that question to you, hurt by another child’s aggression or cruelty. Rosalind explained to Annie the SEAL steps, which show you how to help your child create the space she needs quietly to consider how to stand up for herself – space for her to strategize and you to listen and facilitate. I can’t think of anything more important in post-bullying situation than thinking space before any action is taken by either parent or child. Do check the SEAL steps and the Owning Up Curriculum of which it’s a part – in Amy’s post, mine, or in Annie’s podcast, to which I link.

Related links

* A New York Times blog post on schools leaving out life lessons
* Annie Fox’s Parent Responsibility Pledge
* Rosalind Wiseman’s family tech policy
* “Clicks & Cliques, Part 1: Really meaty advice for parents”and “Clicks, cliques & cyberbullying, Part 2: Whole-school response is key”

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