Once upon a time, bullying was regarded as a natural part of childhood and frequently attributed to “kids being kids.” These days, however, bullying is making headlines. Awareness of bullying and the inherent dangers it can pose has risen dramatically, but that doesn’t stamp the problem out altogether. With modern technology making it easier than ever for bullies to access their victims around the clock, it’s important for a parent to understand and recognize signs of bullying. Bullying can range from physically attacking someone to verbally assaulting them and from gossiping about people to cyber bullying them. Cyber bullying includes harassing or intimidating behavior via emails, text messages or social media sites. Because you can’t protect your child from everything she’ll encounter when you’re not there with her, it’s best to teach your child appropriate ways of avoiding such encounters or, if necessary, standing up to a bully without physical retaliation.
Children who are bullied are at an increased risk of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. According to a study published in the Archives of Pediatric Medicine, children who are bullied are also more likely to contemplate suicide. If you notice your child complaining of aches and pains as a way of avoiding school, or if you notice abnormal bumps and bruises, it’s time to start asking questions. If they can’t explain certain injuries, missing articles of clothing or poor school performance, a bully might be the culprit. If your child is old enough to use social media sites, check in with them in regards to online accounts as well. Set boundaries and request access to the sites if things aren’t adding up.
If you suspect that your child is being bullied, start a conversation that allows him to speak freely without fear of judgment. Encourage him to speak up about his concerns regarding what’s going on at school. Ask him to describe the occurrences, how often they happen and who is involved. Ask him if any other children or adults have witnessed the accounts and find out what he has done so far to try and stop the bullying. Brainstorm ideas of how to avoid encountering harassing situations. Involve your child in this conversation; it will help them visualize appropriate ways of responding to a pestering bully. Be supportive in the discussion, but remain calm. It might be heart wrenching to hear your child talk openly about these types of situations, but it is important to be a calm influence, rather than another angry voice.
Socialize, Mobilize, Empathize
Encourage your child to stick with a group of friends when walking home from school, riding the bus or eating lunch in the cafeteria. Let your child know that it’s okay to ask adults or other school officials to accompany them. Bullies tend to target kids that stand out. Encouraging new hobbies and interests might help your child make new friends and find a circle of people with similar interests. If the bully is persistent, don’t endorse verbal retaliation or physical violence. Teach them and encourage them to maintain their composure, tell them to turn and walk away. Children start to learn to empathize at an early age. Encouraging your child to empathize with the bully is a way of teaching compassion. If compassion is present, forgiveness is soon to follow, which can remove much of the emotional burden of being bullied. At the very least, it may help reduce the long term psychological effects of having been bullied as a child.
Keep checking in with your child, even if it seems the bullying has subsided. Sometimes kids will become embarrassed that the harassment has continued and may feel both hopeless to stop it and mortified that they are repeatedly a target. Keep the lines of communication open. If the bullying hasn’t ceased, contact the appropriate authorities. Getting the school principal, bus driver or class teacher involved and aware of the problem is a good start, and will provide extra sets of eyes and ears when you can’t be with your child. It is also worth an attempt to contact the parents of the bully. Be prepared for a defensive response or outright denial, however. Many parents find it difficult or impossible to believe that they could raise a bully and may refuse to accept the situation on principle. By making them aware of the problem and attempting to calmly enlist their help in remedying the difficult situation your child is in, you may be able to get the parents of your child’s bully involved in a way that will have a lasting impact.