Maudlin and Associates ™
Karen Maudlin
Psy.D., CPCC
Kenneth Davison
Cindy Takiguchi
Manette Galván Turner
Robert Gregory
Daniel Doebler
Trevor Simpson

The author of the book Sticks and Stones: A Parent and Teacher Guide to Bullying offers proactive, practical advice for both parents and children.
A skinny seventh-grade boy left school every day in fear of yet again being thrown into the secluded dumpster next to his school.

Every day for three weeks, the same seven guys would pick him up, strip off his backpack, and toss him into the dumpster.

Finally an acquaintance and his buddies decided to help out by walking with the victim. They did this for two weeks. This nonverbal show of force stopped the bullying entirely.

What happens if a bystander doesn’t step in? The results can sometimes be fatal, with the victim either becoming suicidal or seeking violent revenge.

What can we do when bullying affects our children? How can we motivate our Christian kids to be careful, but courageous, intervening bystanders?

First, we can understand the problem. Bullying has become an epidemic at schools over the last 15 years. Metal detectors, police presence, student identification cards, and lock-down procedures have had a dramatic and positive influence on reducing potentially lethal situations. In addition, numerous anti-bullying, character development, peer mediation, and staff intervention programs have been developed and implemented to address the problem.

But while the school homicide rate has declined dramatically overall since 1994, incidents of students threatened or injured with a weapon at school have remained the same. About 282,000 high school students are physically attacked in school each month. And although the lethal nature of these attacks has been reduced, the bullying problem is still significant. About 77 percent of high school students experience mental, verbal, or physical bullying according to a 2003 survey conducted by the American Justice Department. Of those, about fifteen percent suffered severe reactions to the abuse, requiring hospitalization, medical treatment, or school changes. The stereotype that these incidents occur primarily in inner-city schools was dispelled after the Columbine shootings of 1999.

What is bullying?
All children have moments of thoughtlessness and disregard for others. A bully, however, typically comes from an emotionally and/or physically abusive background and uses intimidation and cruelty to dominate others and gain social status.

While boys and girls are targeted equally, bullies themselves are more often male students, using violence, threats of harm, name-calling, and derogatory language to trap their victims. It is clear to both the victim and the bully that the two are enemies.

Female bullies often use more subtle means to taunt their victims, leveraging friendship as a commodity to lure a girl in and then set her up for rejection. This is often repeated with alternating disingenuous interest and humiliating rejection, leading to pain and confusion for the victim that prolongs the bullying.

Sexual harassment in the form of hallway grabbing, pinching of private parts, lifting skirts, and sexual name-calling is also on the rise. The Internet takes all these actions to a new level, as kids are now putting recorded bullying acts on Web sites for all to see.

With bullying incidents making headlines around the nation, the question then becomes what can we do? What can Christian parents do?

Parents need to start with their own children, and strike a balance—by being over-protective, they risk robbing their children of developing valuable coping skills, but at the same time, they are responsible for the safety and protection of their children. Following are a few tips:

First things first. Begin by discerning whether or not your child is a victim. Kids often won’t speak up—especially to parents. Dr. Sarah Shea, director of the Child Development Clinic in Halifax, Canada, recommends asking indirect questions—checking out how children are spending their lunch hour, or what life on the bus or walk home is like. Many bullying incidents occur on the bus, in the gym locker room, and on the way home from school. Ask your children if they have seen other kids bullied and what happens to
the bully afterward.

Warning Signs. Consider following up with direct questions if you see the following signs: reluctance to go to school, fearfulness, anxiety, stomach aches only on school days, sleep disturbances and nightmares, vague physical complaints, or belongings that do not return back home.

What if your child is being bullied?

  • Control yourself. When we hear about our kids being picked on, our natural response is to want to strike first and talk later. If we’re more mature, we might just want to lecture the bully. Sometimes the anxiety of hearing that a child is in harm’s way leads a parent to minimize or dismiss the situation. We need to put aside our own emotions and be available to listen, help, pray, and believe in our children.

  • Listen carefully. Don’t jump directly into problem solving. It is critical that you first truly listen to your child. What do they think triggered the bullying? What have they done to try to solve it? What worked and what did not work? What else do they think could be done? Asking them questions teaches them that they are full participants in figuring out what to do.

  • Assure your child that it is not his or her fault. Part of growing up involves figuring out how to fit in and get along, and children naturally feel anxious about their status. So if a bully is picking on them, it is easy for them to think that they deserve the harassment. You are their reality check. No child deserves to be on the receiving end of malicious acts.

  • Offer advice when it is requested. It is tempting to tell your child how to solve the problem. Don’t. Become a partner and wait for an invitation to help. You are teaching them a life skill and you don’t want them to miss the lesson that comes from facing the challenging aspects of life. Ask your child how you can help and listen to the answer.

  • Validate their experiences. Many bullying victims report that their parents refused to take the situation seriously. Kids need to know that you hear them and believe them; that you are the safety net.

  • Admire and affirm. Tell your child specifically why you like the way she is handling the situation. Encourage your child to step out boldly and carefully to advocate for other kids who are getting bullied.. Pray and tell. Pray for your kids daily and let them know you do. Prayer is a meaningful way to connect with and without words. Light a candle together and ask God to speak to you and your child about how to handle a specific bully in quiet prayer.

  • Empower. Start with the strategies your child comes up with and think through together how to implement the plan. Help your child avoid the situations that expose him or her to bullying. If it occurs on the way to or from school, find a safe route and arrange for an older child companion. Also, point out places the child can go for help. Develop a list of kids and specific strategies for each target time.

  • Role model. As parents, we need to model positive and respectful behavior to our kids. Teach your kids how to talk about feelings and enemies. Avoid sarcasm and blaming language. Demonstrate respect and compassion.. Partner with your school. In selected situations, especially with elementary-aged children, it is important for parents to talk with other parents, teachers, and school administrators to improve the situation. Do this in coordination with your child and with his or her input. Review the results together. If you have worked with your older child without much success, or if the situation is dangerous, consider working directly with the school.

Working with your school

  • Communicate. Parent-school communication is vital. Start with the teacher most directly involved. Don’t assume teachers know about specific incidents. If further help is needed, call the school social worker, counselor, dean, or principal.

  • Develop a strategy for your meeting. Have accurate information; ask your child for details about the incidents, including where they have occurred, how often, when they started, and your child’s responses to the bullying. Be concise and open to looking at how your child’s behavior may be contributing to the situation.

  • Look for a way to solve the problem together. Practice what you will say beforehand to make sure you come across in a positive manner.

  • Advocate with the administrator to adjust schedules, seating, and/or locker assignments to limit interaction between the bully and your child. You may want to request additional supervision and/or monitoring be provided in targeted areas..Follow up with the school personnel about both progress and difficulties with the situation.

  • Serve on the character committee. Many middle schools have committees that look at ways to address character issues through academic curriculum, discipline, in-class skits, or a student leadership character team.