Support Children & Resolve Bullying Issues
Bullying, hazing, and other threatening behaviors are sadly common aspects of childhood and adolescence. The causes, triggers, and severities of such incidents vary, but they can all leave a traumatic effect on the victims and can actually be psychologically damaging to the bully themselves, too. As much as we hope that our children will avoid the mean side of life, it is likely that they will encounter bullying at some point while growing up. So, let’s talk about how to approach these situations: ways to prevent, recognize, and resolve bullying our children might face.
First Step: Prevention
- Talk to your kids about bullying, even if you don’t suspect it. Talking about bullying early on can make it easier for your children to talk to you if a problem does ever arise.
- Model healthy behaviors and respectful relationships with others, rather than ones that are based on power and control.
- Develop and foster a line of open communication with your child. Create a safe space that allows your child the ability to talk about their lives, events in their day, successes, challenges, and everything in between. Having this support will make it more likely that your child will come to you at the first sign of an issue rather than being too ashamed to talk about it.
- Build and encourage resilience. Teach assertive communication skills and help kids learn the difference between assertive communication and aggressive communication. Role play with your child so they know how to stand up for themselves and are more prepared for how they would respond to someone bullying them. Discuss what they can say or do if they witness bullying, even if they are not the direct target.
How Do I Know If My Child Is Being Bullied?
It can be helpful to familiarize yourself with the signs that may indicate your child is the victim of bullying behavior:
- Injuries on your child that they can’t or won’t explain
- Frequent complaints of physical symptoms – headaches, stomach aches, etc.
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits (i.e., coming home hungry because they didn’t eat lunch or having frequent nightmares)
- Lost or destroyed personal items
- Decreased interest in school, asking to not attend school
- Drops in academic grades
- Low self-esteem
- Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
- Self-destructive behaviors (i.e., self-harm, suicidal ideation)
If you suspect bullying, but your child seems unwilling to talk about it, they may be concerned about backlash or feel poorly about themselves. They may feel like others won’t understand them or fear being seen as weak. Help address some of these fears and concerns in an attempt to encourage your children to be honest with you if you suspect they are being bullied. Talk about experiences you have lived through.
What Can I Do to Help?
This is certainly a tricky situation because you want to do everything you can to protect your child from bullying, but you also don’t want to stifle their independence or teach them to rely on you for all social conflicts. It’s also ill-advised to try to resolve the issue with other children involved yourself. So, remember that there are always other people in their life that you can partner with for a resolution.
If your child has one classroom teacher, it may be beneficial to start with them. Ask them about their observations and express your concerns. Ask the teacher how they intend to address the issue. If you do not notice a stop to bullying behavior after discussing it with your child’s teacher, reach out to a school administrator. If the issue exists outside of school, make sure to establish connections with the parents of all children your child interacts with to make conflict resolutions smoother.
What If My Child Is the Bully?
It happens; sometimes our kids make poor choices. If you suspect that your child might be the source of bullying, be open, honest and direct. Tell your child about the information you have received and ask them to also explain it to you. Use open-ended questions to the best of your ability to encourage conversation. Try and determine where the behavior is rooted from so you can best assist your child in redirecting their behavior. Discuss what you expect and consequences of continued bullying behaviors.
Throughout the entire conversation, remain calm and really listen to what your child has to say. You want to keep the line of communication open and send the message that you are a resource for your child if there is something they are struggling with. Help them identify solutions to problems and consider ways to make amends with the other child.
Comfort and Empower
At the end of the day, you cannot control everything that happens to your child in the outside world, but you can provide a safe, warm, and comforting home base in which they feel confident to speak out. Here’s how:
- Ensure you are listening in a non-judgmental way – often bullied kids experience shame and may try to hide what is happening.
- Remind them that you are there to support them and help them figure out how to solve this issue together.
- Talk to them about your experiences and what helped you overcome past challenges.
- Teach or reinforce coping/wellness/mindfulness skills to manage negative feelings.
- Assure your child they are not to blame and nothing about being bullied is their fault.
If the situation is especially difficult, consider seeking out therapy and other mental health support.
Want to learn more? Watch our webinar:
Bullying & Cyberbullying: What it is, what it is not, and what parents can do.
If you or a family member needs behavioral and/or mental health treatment, but aren’t sure where to start, read more here or call 888-764-4161. We’re here to support!
About the Expert
Maeling Ruiz is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) with PM Behavioral Health. She has been successfully providing mental health and substance abuse services to children, adolescents, adults and families since 2011. Maeling specializes in using methods and approaches that meet each individual where they are. She has experience in working as a therapist for youth in foster care, providing mental health services to college aged-students on the autism spectrum, and helping families to effectively address anxiety, depression, trauma, and/or behavioral problems.