Monday, January 27, 2014

How to respond if your child has bullied someone else online

If you found out that your child has bullied someone else, or your child reached out to you for help
handling the situation, what would you say or do?

You are the expert on your own child. But, this likely will be a sensitive conversation, so here are some general tips to work towards a positive interaction, and specific strategies to help you handle the situation.

1. Set yourself up for a successful conversation with your child.

2. Find the best space to have the conversation. Find a private place to talk with your child where you will both be comfortable and your child will feel safe to talk freely. You might consider taking a walk or going for a snack. Give your child the physical distance they need during the conversation.

3.Take a moment before you talk to your child to check-in and manage your own feelings. This includes: taking a deep breath, recognizing the strong emotions you may have about the situation, and managing them before you talk with your child. Using positive “self-talk,” like saying to yourself, “I love my child and want the best for him/her, so I will remain calm when we talk” can help you to remain calm and guide the conversation in the right direction.

– If you feel like you might say something to your child you will regret, it’s important to remember that everyone makes mistakes. This challenging moment presents an opportunity to help your child develop empathy and learn healthier ways to treat others.

4. Remember, you are the role model. Your child is learning about the best and worst ways to respond to challenging situations like bullying from watching you. Your feelings are contagious. If you stay calm, your kids will more likely be calm and learn how to deal with challenging situations effectively. If you notice you are still upset and not sure you can stay calm while talking to your child, hold off until you feel ready to have a successful conversation.

5. Give your child support, and listen. No matter what has happened, let your child know you will listen to them without interrupting or criticizing them. Your child needs to feel emotionally safe to be open and honest with you. Reassure your child that you will not go behind their back and that you will work with them to find a positive resolution.
6. You likely will have judgments about what happened, especially if your child has disappointed you with their mean behavior. However, it is important for you not to express those judgments in a critical way. Try your best not to say things like, “What’s wrong with you? Are you stupid?” Rather, say something like “I am disappointed that this happened. This is serious – it is not ok for you or anyone else to spread rumors/say mean things/threaten, etc.”

7. Talk with your child about the problem. Some key points to guide your initial conversation include:
  •  Find out exactly what happened, how long it has been happening, and if anything that has happened after it has been reported. 
  • Your background knowledge of your child’s relationship with the person who was bullied, could influence how you discuss and handle the situation. 
  • When asking your child about what happened, be a good listener; don’t put words into your child’s mouth, or jump to conclusions. 
Communicate your values. Let your child know that bullying behavior is unacceptable and that there will be consequences. Remind your child of important key values like kindness, respect and empathy.

If you find out from someone else that your child has been engaging in bullying behavior:
Conversation Starter: “(Child’s Name), I got an upsetting call from someone today who told me that you have been saying mean things/spreading rumors/etc. about one of your classmates. I’m very disappointed to hear this. It’s not ok and you must stop immediately. Tell me exactly what happened so we decide what action needs to be taken.”

If your child discloses to you that they have been engaging in bullying behavior:
Conversation Starter: “(Child’s Name), it took courage for you to tell me this when you know how upsetting it would be for me to hear. I’m not going to scream and yell, but I want you to know that it’s never ok to say mean things/spread rumors/etc. Let’s sit down and talk through the situation so we can figure out the best way to handle this.”

If you find out the situation involved psychological harm or physical threats to another person; You will want to take immediate action after hearing your child’s side of the story, because everyone’s safety is priority.

Conversation Starter: “(Child’s Name), I just found out that you threatened to hurt/said really mean things about one of your classmates. I’m incredibly disappointed and need you to know that this is unacceptable behavior. Tell me what your reason was for doing this.”  

Decide on your course of action

-- With your child, decide how the situation will be handled both on and off line.

– Decide on the consequences. Let your child know that in your home there are consequences for being mean or hurtful to others. For some families this means taking away technology privileges, for others it means curtailing time spent with friends.

– Stay firm if your child begs you not to do anything, or does not want to do anything, let them know that their behavior is not acceptable and that there will be consequences. You also must be consistent – that is follow through with whatever consequences were set.

– Help your child remove the offensive post if they have not already done so. You might ask your child to imagine how they would feel if someone had posted something like this about them.

– Avoid making promises you can’t keep. But do reassure your child that you want to find a successful resolution to the problem and will do your best to make sure their life doesn’t get more difficult through actions you will take. 

– Learn as much as possible. It will be important to find out whether this behavior is new for your child or whether something else might have occurred that you do not know about. This will help you decide on how you will handle this at home, including consequences, or seeking professional counseling for your child.

Some recommended solutions to help your child resolve the problem with the target:
– If this occurred at school, make an appointment with the principal to reinforce that you will work with school administration and your child to handle the situation as best as possible; that you will follow the school’s policy about the consequences for your child and that there will be consequences at home for your child’s behavior. 

– Encourage your child to apologize privately and/or publicly. Decide whether your child can do it alone, or may need your guidance to write the language for an authentic, meaningful apology.

Example of Parent’s coaching for private Apology:
To take responsibility for your actions. First, you need to remove the post/photo, and ask anyone who forwarded it to pull it down as well. If it happens again, your technology privileges will be taken away.”

Example Public apology:
You can apologize to all the people your note went to.” The note you help your child write to whoever received can be something like, “On Thursday I wrote something on X’s wall that was really disrespectful. I was wrong to do it and am sorry. I apologized to X and want everyone to know that what I wrote was not true.”

If your child is the target of bullying and has agreed for you to reach out to the school.
(Note: Most schools only get involved if the bulling behavior happened using school-based technology or if off-campus behavior results in disruption of the learning environment of other students)

Example Parent to Teacher Conversation Starter:
My child is extremely upset, as am I. There is nothing more important to me than my child’s safety and well-being – and I need the school to handle this immediately. What is your policy for dealing with situations like this? How can we be sure that this will not happen again? I also would like to know the consequences for the child who bullied my child, and most importantly what can be done to help my child feel safe returning to school?

If your child is the bully and you need to reach out to the school (or the school has reached out to you).

Example Parent to Teacher Conversation Starters:
 Obviously, I’m very upset to learn that this happened. I’ve heard my child’s story, but please tell me what you know about the situation. Who else was involved? Is there any history to this problem?  I’d like your help in figuring out the best possible way to do that.”

If your child is the bully and you need to reach out to the parent of the child s/he bullied.

Example Parent to Parent Conversation Starters (on phone):

My daughter spread a rumor (identify incident) about your child. (Child’s Name) understands that this is completely unacceptable. What do you know about the situation? I want to make sure your child knows that {Child’s Name} wants to apologize if you and your son/daughter are ready to accept it. We will do everything possible to make sure this never happens again.” I want you to know how terribly sorry we are about what happened between our children. I don’t know all of the circumstances, but I want to let you know that I’ll be talking to my child about it. I happen again and ensure that (Child’s Name) apologizes. Please accept my apologies.”

Be clear about the consequences and follow through.

If you have not established consequences for bullying behavior, do it now and follow through. Whatever consequences you decide on should be firmly applied, taking into consideration the severity of the incident and the child’s comprehension of the hurt they have inflicted. For example, some families decide to limit or take away technology privileges at home for a period of time.

If your child has been bullied and you need to reach out to the bully’s parent.

Example Parent Bullied Child to Parent Conversation Starters (on phone):

My daughter told me that your son/daughter has been spreading rumors (identify incident) about him/her. Do you have a few minutes to talk about this?  I hope you can talk to your child about this
and encourage him/her to apologize directly to my child. It would be even better if your child could post a public apology to the group that received the message. I’m sure you can understand why this so important for us to handle immediately.”

When talking to a defensive parent:
I can understand that it is difficult to hear this about NAME, but it’s really important for me to talk to you directly about this because the post was extremely upsetting to my child. I hope we can both agree that spreading rumors is unacceptable. Maybe there is a way for us to find out more about what happened between them so they can help them to resolve this in a better way. The most important thing for me is that my child feels safe and comfortable in school. I’m sure you feel the same for your child. Would it be possible for you to work with your child to apologize? It would be even better if your child could post a public apology to the group that received the message. I hope you agree that the most important thing is to ensure that this never happens again ”

If you intend to involve the school:
I'd also like you to know that I’m going to contact our children’s teacher, to make sure the school has something in place to communicate to all kids that bullying is not ok. Of course I’m going to ask the school to keep it confidential, but my child is afraid to go to school and the most important thing is that my child feels safe at school.”

Opportunities that you might want to explore, include:
  • Pay close attention to your child’s Internet and cell phone activities to ensure that they have are behaving in ways that are aligned with your family’s values.
  • Watching movies with your child that have a bullying theme and then discussing them as a family. 
  •  Find out what your school is doing to build a positive climate so your child feels safe, comfortable, and is able to learn. Also learn whether social and emotional skills instruction and training in conflict resolution is part of the curriculum.
  • Consider counseling, especially for severe ongoing cases, counseling can explore the reason for their behavior, in a safe and confidential manner.

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