How do I deal with middle school bullying?
Middle school bullying is a tricky situation for parents to navigate. If you’re a parent of a middle schooler who is being bullied, these tips and guidance from CareNectar expert Shenley Seabrook may be helpful to you.
Our daughter is in the 6th grade, and my wife and I are worried she is being bullied by a boy in her class. We’ve contacted the school and they said they would handle it, but nothing has changed. Should we try to reach out to the boy’s parents to help resolve the situation? What action step is best to help protect our daughter?
First of all, I’m so sorry this is happening to your daughter! Middle School can be especially tough when it comes to harassment, bullying, and peer conflict. You did the right thing by contacting the school. They absolutely need to know so they can notify the staff to keep an eye out for any additional incidents and provide disciplinary measures. Here are a few other suggestions to help navigate this situation.
- Follow up with the school. Contact the school staff again to ask how the situation you reported was handled. They may not be able to tell you specific details about discipline for the other students because of privacy issues, but they should be able to tell you the steps they took to make sure the behavior stops. If you do not feel their actions were comprehensive enough, give them your input! You can ask that the student’s seat be changed, or that they be moved to a different lunch period or homeroom class away from your child, for example.
- Contact the counselor. Most schools either have a guidance counselor or a social worker who is trained to deal with situations involving bullying and peer conflict. You can request that they speak with your daughter to help her process what is happening to her and provide her with tips on how to handle things if the situations occurs in the future. They can also speak to the student engaging in bullying to help them figure out why they are acting out towards others in this way.
- Ask how you can help. Talk to your daughter about how she would like you to support her during this time. Does she want you to come to the school and follow up with the principal or counselor with her? Or would she rather you just support her at home by being a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on? Sometimes as parents we want to rush in to fix everything, but we might unintentionally make things worse. Especially in middle school, kids are quick to become embarrassed when they feel like their parents have to come in to solve their problems for them. Find out what your daughter is comfortable with, and as long as she is not in immediate danger, go with it.
- Leave out the other family. This is probably super tough because I think most parents’ first instinct is to get on the phone and call the child’s parents to ask how they could raise such an inconsiderate child who is hurting their sweet baby. This will likely not go well. Now, if you happen to know and have a decent relationship with the other child’s parents, a quick phone call might be appropriate. Just weigh the pros and cons before picking up the phone.
- Give your child tools. Not actual tools, of course, but tools that will help them combat bullying now and in the future. You can explain to your daughter that the research shows that bullies tend to target kids to react emotionally to their words and actions, or kids they know won’t retaliate or tell an authority figure. Let your daughter know that when an incident occurs, she can either ignore the bully, or walk away and find a staff person. Encourage your daughter to continue talking about these incidents, as difficult as it may be. This will help her feel supported and less alone, and also ensure there is a record of the incidents. You can also make sure she knows the Bullying Hotline number (if her school has one) and how to use it.
- Build your child up. Be sure to build your child up whenever possible. Talk about the things she is good at and the things you love about her often. Bullying incidents can take a major toll on a child’s self-esteem. Be sure she knows that the bullying has nothing to do with her specifically, and everything to do with the child doing the bullying. Children who bully others are sometimes being abused at home, have witnessed domestic violence, or are not getting the proper care and attention in their home environment. They might also have extremely low self-esteem and bully others to make themselves feel superior. This might allow you and your child to have some empathy, as difficult as it may be, for the child who is engaging in bullying behavior, and help you both to move past the hurt to a place of understanding and self-love.
We hope these tips are helpful as you navigate this tricky situation. And remember, the CareNectar team is here for you!
Meet The Expert
Shenley Seabrook is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who works primarily with children and adolescents in a private practice setting. She is also a foster parent and lives with her husband and daughter in Indiana. Shenley recently wrote her first children’s book, We Have the Same Heart, which celebrates diversity, inclusion, and community service.