Bullying continues to make headlines in our area as the Michigan Senate passes a controversial new bill which places greater responsibilities on schools for dealing with cyberbullying, even when it happens off school grounds.

This bill has parents and guardians wondering what part they should play in all of this. Parents are automatically involved in the bullying situations their children face. Bullying affects each victim’s self-esteem, mood and attitude.

As an anti-bullying advocate, I’ve heard from many parents and guardians over the past few years who are concerned about what they can do about bullying when it affects their family. And there are a number of ways they can help victims of bullying.

The first way to help is to be a good listener when a child is talking about the situation.

Counselors recommend letting the child get their feelings out and acknowledging their frustration with the situation. The child being able to talk and not bottle up feelings is very important to their self-esteem.

If a parent or guardian doesn’t feel their conversations are helping enough, they should consider contacting a child counselor for further help.

Second, parents and guardians can work on a plan with the child to deal with the situation.

Where does the bullying occur? If it occurs at school, administrators and counselors are required to deal with the situation. Contact them for resources. If it occurs outside of school, make plans for the child to take a different route to avoid the bully or travel with a friend.

Some parents may experience difficulty with school administrators who don’t know how to handle bullying situations.

If a parent isn’t satisfied with what is being done about their child’s situation, there is a chain of command to follow to seek more help. A parent and/or child should first contact either the principal or school counselor. Give them time to investigate the situation. If this doesn’t affect the situation, the parent should next turn to the school superintendent. If this doesn’t help, the parent should contact the State Department of Education. In Michigan, Matt’s Safe School Law requires schools to investigate and deal with complaints involving bullying.

Third, parents should praise their child for what they are good at and encourage them to keep working on it. Build them up with praises. If a parent knows what the bully is harassing the child about, point out any flaws in the bully’s logic the child may not have considered.

If what the bully is teasing them about is a familial physical trait, such as a unique-looking nose, parents can remind the child how many other relatives have that same feature. They can talk about what bothered them about their appearance at the child’s age. Anything a parent or guardian can do to remind the child they are not alone is helpful.

Fourth, get the child involved in activities with other kids. This may be sports, music, theater or anything they enjoy. Friendships often develop from shared interests. Bullies tend to bully when a child is alone. The more the victim is with other kids, the less likely the bully will bother them.

When bullies no longer have access to the victim, the bullying will likely stop.

When it comes to cyberbullying, parents should monitor their child’s time online. If they see evidence of cyberbullying, they should talk it over with the child. If it is continuously happening, police should be contacted.

Finally, if the bullying includes physical abuse, parents may want to consider seeking classes in self-defense for their child. Some schools in Southwest Michigan are providing this option for students. Self-defense does not necessarily mean hitting back. It can mean simply blocking punches and avoiding other types of physical assault.

The more options that are open to the child who is being bullied, the more positive they will be and the less likely to harm themselves or others.

Parents who care and can be supportive can have a huge impact on a child who being bullied. Parents need to be proactive in doing this.

Kurt J. Kolka is an anti-bullying advocate, author and cartoonist.

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