What Parents Need to Know to Protect Their Kids From Bullying 16

Overcoming bullying is a process and for kids with long memories, who experience longterm bullying, the process is far from simple. I advise you to seek medical help to overcome more severe bullying or for any bullying that causes personality changes, such as profound anger or sadness. Make sure the school protects your child from further bullying too.

Today, I am happy to have Signe Whitson back for a second guest post with more information to help parents.

According to the American Justice Department, one out of every four children is bullied. Studies show that those statistics leap for homosexual youth, who are bullied at an alarming four times the rate of heterosexual youth. What’s more, 85% of children with disabilities are regular victims of social exclusion and verbal and physical abuse by their peers. It doesn’t take a statistician or a news reporter to make clear that bullying is an epidemic among today’s children and youth.

What is it that affords resilience to some young people while others are driven to self-destruction? It is an important question for parents to ask, since understanding the answer provides clues on how to protect their own children from the life-threatening impact of bullying.

How to Help the Bullied Child

Resilience literature talks about the importance of things like intelligence and creativity in strengthening a child, and champions the role of at least one consistent, loving caregiver in each child’s life. These factors cannot be understated. Another protective factor seems to be instilling a positive future orientation in each child.

What is a positive future orientation? When a child is in the heat of the moment—facing intensely cruel physical and/or mental cruelty at the hands of his peers that makes school attendance unfathomable and daily life unbearable—is that child able to see beyond their current situation and believe that things will get better? The ability to “take a long view” is difficult for young people who, by their very nature, live in the here and now. Teaching kids to think about how things will be in the future is a critical factor in helping them move past the torturous moments of the present.

Instilling a “this too shall pass” mindset is critical in strengthening our kids to endure and persevere through difficult times. Make it a habit to help your kids think about their future. Ask them questions like:

  • What do you look forward to being able to do when you become a teenager?
    • When you turn 16?
    • When you go to college?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?
    • What do you need to do to get there?
  • Where do you think you might want to live?
    • Who would live with you?

The precise questions are not as important as the fact that you are helping your kids develop a view of their future and to stay focused on how life can be, as opposed to the realities of how it might feel in the present.

Protecting children from bullying is a complicated, multi-layered task. Parents must fortify their children with coping skills and internal strengths to stand up to the bullying their will see, hear, observe, and receive. Knowing how to take the long view and live with the faith that things can be better is a critical factor in helping kids withstand the here-and-now realities of their world.

For more information on teaching your child skills for coping with bullying behavior, check out Signe’s latest book, Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Aged 5-11 to Cope with Bullying. Please visit www.signewhitson.com for information on her workshops and trainings for parents, professionals, and kids.  “Like” Signe on Facebook, or Follow her on Twitter @SigneWhitson.


  1. Hello all–

    Thanks so much for all of your comments related to this topic and your feedback on my post in particular. Please be assured that this post was meant to explore one–among MANY–valuable interventions that parents can make when it comes to helping their kids cope effectively with bullying. My apologies if the post implied that helping kids develop a positive future orientation was a singular strategy!

    There is so MUCH that needs to be done–by parents, by schools, by peers that behave as heroes, by concerned adults that don’t want a single other child to be victimized–and so many different ways that we can all intervene. My book, Friendship & Other Weapons, is designed to give young girls skills to cope with bullying and to create a culture in schools that frowns on bullying rather than encouraging it. I implore adults to be champions for kids and I also know that real change has to start with the kids themselves. I hope my book is a means to this end for elementary school aged girls.

    • Signe,
      I had the benefit of having interacted with you via e-mail and having visited your site, so I knew what you meant. Now you know why I chose no to use the third one you wrote. Parents of special needs children are of necessity vocal.

      I am so glad you agreed to the two guest posts and I too hope your book and mine help to change the world. I look forward to working together again.

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  4. I appreciate Signe’s follow up post, and while her suggestions are helpful, I am not convinced that they are enough. Parental involvement and intervention is imperative. We must not sit back and watch our children being bullied and think that a future oriented attitude of this too shall pass will suffice. It won’t! I’m sorry, but from my experience as a student and a parent, we must take action now. I agree with the former principal on the need to tackle it right away. Too many kids have lost their lives while we waited for the bullying to stop.
    Thank you!

    • Yes, Liz I too concur with Phil. While Signe’s suggestions may not be enough, they are important too. I think it is important to note that Signe’s experience is as a social worker with neurotypical children, and as Stephanie noted above, my daughter can pass for neurotypical at times.

      However, it does not mean life is fairly easy for her. M. does well when she is surrounded by supportive people, but even then, she can experience overload by the end of the day. Life is extremely hard for her when the environment is unsupportive and judgmental. Then things that might not seem to brother her to the uninformed, can almost destroy her. Sometimes the excellent rote memory that helps her in so many ways is a detriment too. It makes past pain too easy to relive and looking forward harder too.

      I have always said the parents of children with special needs or with any difference need to be involved in helping setup ways to help their children overcome bullying and even in helping educate teachers and counselors of ways they can help prevent it. However, I think it is important to note that Signe’s advice is typical of what many others recommend and many schools still follow. It is good advice, but yes schools and our society in general need to do more to really solve the problem.

      In fairness, Signe did not know the details of M’s bullying until after she wrote the two posts and she too was outraged by all of the people who let M. down. Our experience is why I wrote Protecting Your Children From Bullies and Protecting Victims of Bullying last January and why I have written so many other posts about bullying too.

      • I agree that parent involvement is essential. Whole community involvement is essential; and parental involvement is one factor in how that happens.

        The bullying has to stop.

        And a positive future outlook is important–because, as you said, even if the bullying does stop, the pain can keep going and going and going. To me, and perhaps I misread that, this is where a future outlook comes into play, changing the negative self-talk and the echoes of damage the bullying has caused.

        But all the devaluation that goes on makes that difficult, and it’s not just children with special needs. All the minorities that tend to be especially targeted for bullying also are subjected to a lot of unjust devaluation by society itself–a form of massive, society-wide bullying if you will.

        (It was not my intention to suggest that because M. can pass that she should have to or that it’s easy for her. If it sounded like that, I sincerely apologize. I was trying to say that there are those with valid, life-affecting disabilities who are still recognized by most of society as potential contributors, and therefore people “worthy” of a positive future; and there are those that most of society sees no worth or value in at all, who are told by well-meaning people that they should learn to do menial tasks in protected environments, because that is their “positive future.”)

        • I know you do not mean any harm. Temple Grandin’s mother was told that she should institutionalize her. Thank God she did not listen! Society has a long way to go in understanding that all life has value and every baby step is a positive future. That is why we all work to educate others.

          • Society does have a long way…sometimes it seems like there’s too much to do to make any progress. But, we can, and we can work together to accomplish a lot.

          • Stephanie,
            I have been feeling a little overwhelmed recently which is why I haven’t gotten back to you on your project. I want to do it, but I not sure if I can manage it this year. I will e-mail you soon. Yes, I do believe we can make progress!

  5. While I do not disagree with anything Signe said, and I’m certainly glad she said it, I also see a very big problem.

    Since children with disabilties are such frequent targets of bullying, and a positive future orientation is so important, then what are parents supposed to do in a world where the vast majority of influences outside our control purport a very negative future for our children?

    I love my kids and I believe they can have a very positive future, and I try to share that belief with each and every one of them. To the best of my ability, I try to surround my children with loving, caring people who also believe they have a future worth having.

    For Sue’s daughter and for my Willy, this is fairly easy (though harder than it should be). Both can “get by” in the typical realm, whether they can pass or not. (I’m not saying this to downplay the very really struggles both children have.) But my younger two… I have to fight the school system just to get them to recognize that two little boys who taught themselves how to read *because we didn’t know how to teach them to read* have untapped intellectual potential. And these are, for the most part, our allies. They are good, caring people. They just rest on their assumptions that impaired intelligence go along with impaired language skills.

    That doesn’t touch the many voices in this world who think the best outcome possible for my two little boys is a CBRF, and that unless we prepare for that now they’ll end up either homeless or in an institution. It doesn’t touch the people who actually come out and say that my children would be better off dead.

    I know from my own childhood experiences with bullying that, when those hurtful words are used so often, it becomes far easier to believe the negative than to believe the positive, especially for those people on the spectrum who cannot understand why anyone would use such hurtful words if they aren’t true.

    What can parents do?

    • Stephanie,
      There is no easy answer. Read my reply to eof737 for more details on my opinions on the subject. I think Phil is on the right track.

  6. I am somewhat conflicted in responding to this guest blog…as a former principal of a high school for 30 years, bullying is most long-standing, pernicious evil I have encountered. It is more difficult to resist than the drug culture, sexual experimentation and cliques. It predates recorded time and evolves from a primitive belief that someone has to be better than someone else…a bizarre twist on the survival of the fittest.

    Bullying in school is the result of the school/social culture. It is a subtle. underground development of a pecking order with bystanders indifferent or oblivious to the hurt. Some wounds never heal; some bullies remain bullies for life as is evidenced by the explosion of domestic violence; some victims remain victims forever and gravitate in latter life to other bullies because they feel worthless. Bystanders remain indifferent forever and walk by as old ladies get mugged, never intervening.

    Schools are cesspools of bullying. Teachers bring their unspoken biases about homosexuality, religion, disability, poverty, etc into the classroom. You do not have to speak the bias, it emanates like a smell of garbage. Kids come to school with these same biases but speak and act upon them because they learned them at home and their social cliques re-inforce them. Administrators always want to give everyone a break, education is a learning experience and mistakes are expected….or maybe they shouldn’t be.

    As a community, we need to learn that one wound is enough to produce enough damage that healing may not be possible. We need to learn before school experiences begin, the effects of words and actions on others. We need to teach kids in K and 1 that words and guns both kill, only in the latter the effects are instantaneous. This is a cultural responsiblity to evolve from the state of the neanderthal…we need to be an ally of the weaker and we need to know that the fittest only need to survive in the animal kingdom, we have conscience.

    Looking to the future is not an answer…today is the answer, and the answer is in the development of soul, social responsibility and a belief that every life is worth living today. That education becomes an imperative at the moment of birth; in high school it is too late. In high school, the only intervention is a strong one and that drives the phenomenon underground.

    The school, from day one, must be demonstrably on the side of the bullied, the victimized and drive all its institutional strength in that direction from day one.

    Sorry for ranting, I am prone to that,,,it’s my illness!

    • Phil,
      I could just kiss you!!! Don’t worry Sharon! I mean in a brotherly way! I shared your response with hubby and he loved it too! Believe me, I still dream of a world where everyone agrees with what you said, and on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day my dreams are stronger than ever.

      Having said that I also think Signe’s advice is helpful and I whole-heartly support anyone who is contributing to awareness of bullying and offering any helpful advice. My motto for this year is to support everyone who helps. The more voices the better.

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