“Unfortunately, when parents talk to other parents, the problem usually gets worse. Avoid letting your natural desire to protect your daughter get in the way of effectively resolving the problem. …Even if the other parents did exactly what you want – get of the phone with you, then scream at their daughter and ground her for a month – guess what happens next? The next day your daughter goes to school with an RMG (Really Mean Girl) bent on revenge. At some point, the RMG’s and your daughter’s paths will cross without adult supervision around. The harassment will escalate.”
– Rosalind Wiseman (2006, p. 143)
How to intervene with bullying
When adults learn about bullying, their tendency is to want to handle the situation in the same way they’d handle a misbehaving child: take the situation by the horns and whoop everyone back into shape. Unfortunately, this is not a situation that can be handled so easily. Many of the solutions parents are accustomed to using won’t work, and it’s easy for a wayward intervention to make things worse for a child rather than better.
Do not intervene by taking matters into your own hands
A parent’s desire to protect their child often causes them to take matters into their own hands or even participate in bullying themselves. It’s easier to do than you might think. Two girls in middle school are caught up in a feud, and are sending each other nasty emails. One girl tells her mother, who reads an email the other girl sent. Being protective of her daughter and wanting to help, she decides that she can write a more skillful response than her daughter can, and suddenly she’s participating in sending nasty messages back to the other girl. Or perhaps a dad who is tired of having the mean boy in the neighborhood pick on his kids at the playground decides to go push the bully around a bit himself and show him what it’s like.
Even if another parent seems to be doing the same thing (this happens frequently if you’re dealing with a Queen Bee morn) don’t lower yourself to this level. Not only is it inappropriate, but she’s going to be more skillful at these tactics than you are (she’s spent her whole life winning such power struggles) and is probably willing to go places you don’t want to go. Parents shouldn’t ever take any part in bullying. If you find yourself doing this, you’ve crossed the line.
More general rules for bullying intervention
- Make sure you read the information in our solutions to bullying section before doing anything, so that you are intervening in the right ways.
- Never intervene angry. If you’re still livid, take a deep breath and cool down before you even begin to consider anything.
- Understand that the situation may be more complicated than it first appears. For example, the bullying may be a means of retribution for something the bullied child did (start a rumor, steal a boyfriend, etc.) either intentionally or accidentally. Keep an open mind, and realize that there may be more to the story than first appears.
Bullying Intervention Resources for Parents
The following pages are recommended to help you understand the situation and formulate a plan of action before you try to intervene.
- Talking to kids about bullying
- How to report bullying to a school