What Co-Parents Can Do When Their Child Is Being Bullied
There’s little more heart-wrenching for a parent than finding out their child is being bullied. It can be even trickier to deal with when you are divorced from your child’s other parent and are coping with any animosity of your own.
As co-parents, your child’s well-being is your number-one priority after your divorce, no matter what your issues are with each other. In most cases, this means putting aside any grievances with your ex-spouse and taking care of your child – together.
If your child is a bullying victim
Unfortunately, kids are often reluctant to tell parents they’re being bullied, and by the time you and your ex find out, the bullying behavior may have made your child’s daily life a nightmare. Once you find out, you may have many angry feelings of your own toward said bully.
Before you act, find out exactly what’s happening. Where and when does the bullying take place, and what behaviors are involved? Is anyone else present? Does it take place at school or outside school? Document all the information so you completely understand the dynamics of what’s happening and can report it accurately.
Although you might be tempted to confront the other child’s parents first, that’s not always the best course of action. Schools have anti-bullying policies, and municipalities and states have bullying laws. You should take the matter to the school or even the police and let them deal with the incident before taking any measures on your own.
If you plan to inform your school first, check the school handbook for a hierarchy of authority. This may be the best place to start. For example, the handbook may advise you to first report any incidents to the teacher or building principal. From there, the next person up may be the superintendent.
What to say to your child
Let your child know you are concerned about the bullying, and thank them for alerting you so you can address it. Acknowledge their feelings, and assure them they aren’t at fault and you aren’t angry at them. Let them know that what they’re enduring is bullying behavior, it’s wrong, and they don’t deserve to be treated that way.
Encourage your child to share precisely what is happening, including the things that are done or said. You might role-play possible responses with your child that enable them to stand up for themselves and/or get help from others. You will also want to follow up with the adults in charge so they know what’s happening.
How to work with your co parent
Unless interacting with your former spouse is unsafe for some reason, coming together as co-parents to defend your child’s best interests is critical. You will want to develop a united front for the sake of your child. The two of you will need to do some decision-making and strategizing as to how you want to handle this as a united front.
A united front may also be helpful if you need to take the matter further up the school hierarchy or to the police.
If you and your ex struggle with communication or cooperation, remind yourselves that this is all about your child.
- Agree to set aside your personal grievances so you can deal with this important matter together.
- Keep each other informed about any developments or new incidents.
- Agree to show a united front to your child and any other people you must deal with while addressing this issue.
- Approach any outside help together, and remain consistent and cooperative in your advocacy of your child.
You may want to specify these things in an official written parenting plan. Here is a free downloadable worksheet to help you get started.
If your child is bullying others
Unfortunately, in today’s internet-enhanced landscape, bullying has become more common. Even if you think your child’s behavior is no big deal, it is if it’s hurting someone else.
Don’t downplay their behavior. Let them know that what they’re saying and doing is causing pain to someone else. Encourage empathy by discussing how they would feel if they were on the receiving end of their actions or words. If possible, enlist the help of another adult, maybe a teacher or coach, who can also talk to them about bullying and its consequences.
Dig deeper. Perhaps it is a symptom of things going on in their own life, including possibly being the victim of bullying behavior by someone else. Try to find out what the source of their frustration is. While you want to be as non-judgmental as possible, they need to know that their bullying behavior won’t be tolerated. Discuss other ways they might be able to deal with their frustrations besides acting aggressively.
How to work with your co parent
Again, co-parenting during times like this requires you to set aside your own issues with your ex if at all possible.
In addition to maintaining a united front and keeping each other updated, you must look at your child’s behaviors objectively. Your child should understand that bullying others is wrong, and you both take their behavior very seriously. Agree not to let them off the hook by downplaying their behavior as minor or “teasing,” and keep the rules and consequences consistent between you regarding their behavior. You may also want to consult a child therapist to learn what might be the cause of this new behavior or help you handle the situation effectively.
FAQ about child bullying after divorce
Did our divorce cause these problems?
After a divorce, parents are confronted with plenty of parental guilt. But it’s essential to remember that bullying behavior isn’t a direct result of your divorce. Children process divorce differently, and yours may be dealing with feelings of insecurity, frustration, or even anger. As co-parents, keeping your communication open between you and them allows you to understand and help them process what they’re going through. Let them know that you are there for them and that you will help them get through their fears – together.
If you fear that your child is suffering depression, low self-esteem, or other problems, enlist the help of a health professional such as their pediatrician or a psychologist. To find psychologists in your area, you can consult the American Psychological Association’s Psychologist Locator or the American Academy for Marriage and Family Therapy’s online Therapist Locator.
How can we model the right behaviors when we’re struggling ourselves?
Constructive co-parenting is all about modeling behavior for your kids despite your personal struggles. This isn’t just important when your child is struggling; it’s also important when dealing with everyday matters.
Kids learn from observing the world around them. Demonstrating a cooperative and respectful approach to your co-parenting relationship offers them powerful examples and tools they can bring to their own future relationships.
Should I allow my child’s stepparent to help address the problem?
In a situation like this, it can be helpful to have as many caring adults in the child’s life as possible. Of course, you may worry about embarrassing your child by bringing even more family members into their private business. And you may have reservations about involving someone who does not know your child as well as you do.
But if you and your co-parent agree that the stepparent is a positive influence in the child’s life who could potentially lend even more support, it may be helpful to include them. Every situation is different.
Dealing with bullying behaviors is challenging for any family. It’s essential to come together for the sake of the child, whether they are the victim or the perpetrator. They need consistency and loving support from both of you, if possible.
At Hello Divorce, we realize that divorce places a great deal of emotional strain on families. That’s why we offer a better way through with our online DIY plans and customizable services. We want to make this transition more accessible and less stressful for everyone involved.
Want to talk with someone who understands? Schedule a free 15-minute call.
SourceSchool Bullying Rates Increase by 35% from 2016 to 2019. Cyberbullying Research Center.
Psychologist Locator. American Psychological Association (APA).
Therapist Locator. American Academy of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT)