Smart Answers to Parents’ Toughest Questions

Confronting a Bully

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Is it ever okay for parents of a child who has been bullied to confront the bully?

“Parents should not have that discussion unless the parent or guardian of the child is also present. The situation should be handled sensitively, with both children given a chance to talk about why the behavior is taking place.” —Dr. Karen Siris, elementary school principal, Oceanside, New York, and adjunct professor, Adelphi University “It's best for parents to work with their kids and empower them to handle the situation. They should teach their kids ways to let the bully know the behavior is unacceptable. However, if parents witness bullying in their own home, it may be appropriate to use ‘I’ messages with the bully to explain how that behavior makes them feel.” —Kristie Pattison, guidance counselor, Marbletown Elementary School, Accord, New York “It depends on the situation. If you witness a child being cruel, or saying something hurtful, you can speak up and express your reaction in a reasonable way. We've lost our sense of community—where kids know that all the adults around are keeping an eye out to oversee and protect them.” —Dr. Peter Sheras, director of clinical training, clinical and school psychology, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia, author of Your Child: Bully or Victim? Understanding and Ending School Yard Tyranny (Fireside 2002) and I Can't Believe You Went Through My Stuff! (Fireside 2004)

Should parents confront a bully’s parents?

“I often hesitate to have parents talk to one another because each parent sometimes ends up defending his own child. However, it depends on the urgency of the situation.” —Ms. Pattison “It's best to go through the school. But if you know the parents, you may want to speak to them directly. Have a clear goal. What works best is to factually inform the parents by describing the situation and its effect on your child.” —Dr. Sheras 
 “Parents can teach their children to share how they are feeling and say, for example, ‘I don't like it when you call me names’ or ‘I don't like it when you don't let me join your game.’ Parents, too, can explain how their child is feeling. They should not be threatening to other parents. They should focus on how the behaviors of the other child are affecting their child. Parents can also explore whether there’s something their child is doing to escalate the situation.” —Dr. Siris