Bus Bullying: Should I Intervene?

Filed under: Behavior, Health & Safety: Big Kids, Behavior: Big Kids, Education: Big Kids, Expert Advice: Big Kids

Dear AdviceMama:

I have a 6-year-old son who is in first grade. Another child is being mean to him on the bus. My son stood up to the bully, but was crying at home when he recounted the story to me. This is not the first incident and I have spoken with the mother of the boy, but there has been no change in his behavior; in fact it has gotten worse. Would it be appropriate to call the principal and/or the bus supervisor now? I want to know the best way to handle these situations without being overbearing, but at the same time keeping my son safe physically and emotionally.

Caring Mom

Dear Caring Mom,

Thanks for this important question. I'm very glad you wrote. Here's my answer: Yes, yes, yes. Call the principal; your 6-year-old son should not have to endure bus bullying, and needs to know that it's not his job to make it stop.

I'm not one to advocate fixing each problem or challenge a child encounters. I believe good parenting includes helping children develop resilience by enduring frustration and difficulties, within reason.

But bullying is another matter.

Your son needs the Captain of his ship -- you -- to help him deal with this storm and sail into safe waters. And apparently, so does the other boy. Set up a meeting with the school principal, ideally in person. Explain the effort you've made to resolve this problem with the other mother. The principal will probably bring in the other boy's parents, as well as the two children. Expect the principal to ask the other child why he's misbehaving and to tell him he must stop or face specific consequences.

Although this will help your son feel something is being done to help him feel safer, it may not put an end to the bullying. Tell the other child's mother that if she'll let you talk with her son directly (without your son present) it may help this problem from becoming more serious. Connect with the child in an authoritative but friendly way. Explain that you're guessing the name-calling is accomplishing something he likes -- perhaps getting other boys on the bus to laugh? Listen without interruption so he'll be receptive when you give advice about other ways to get approval and attention.

Children instinctively take direction from those they feel connected to, so let him know you want to solve this problem, rather than simply frighten him into behaving better. Bullies are usually insecure kids who need someone to step in and help them find other ways to feel confident and important. Show this child now that he's got one more adult in his corner willing to help him feel secure without bullying, and you'll end up helping both of these boys have a happier, safer ride to school.

Yours in parenting support,

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.