Did you know that children who witness bullying can be as impacted by it as the victims themselves? A majority of children will experience, participate in, or witness bullying at some point during their school years. Bullies, victims, and witnesses are all at an increased risk for depression, anxiety, and other negative psychological consequences.
Talking to your child can help raise awareness and promote prevention. Here are five suggestions when talking to your child about bullying:
1. Be Proactive
You don’t have to wait until something bad happens. Talk about bullying BEFORE it occurs.
Be proactive in safeguarding against bullying in your family. Maintain open, supportive communication with your children about the things that matter to them. This sets the stage for important communication when difficulty arises. Model an environment of inclusion, support, and empathy.
2. Know That Children Do Not Always Speak Up
An alarming number of children do not ever tell an adult when they are bullied. Children may fear retaliation from a bully or worry that they will be accused of “tattling.” Children may be embarrassed about what is happening to them or fear that the bullying is somehow their fault. Others fear that adults will not believe them or they simply desire to handle the situation on their own.
It is important not to assume that your child will tell you right away if he or she is being bullied. Watch for signs that bullying may be taking place.
3. Notice the Signs
Learn to recognize the signs that something may be wrong. Watch for changes in mood or behavior in your child. This could include changes in eating and sleeping patterns, a withdrawal from social activities, or an increase in tearfulness or anger. Don’t be afraid to trust your instinct if you feel that your child isn’t himself/herself. You are an expert on your child.
Sudden reluctance to go to school may be a warning sign, as are unusual academic struggles. You may also notice an increase in physical complaints, such as frequent stomachaches or headaches, and avoidance of social situations. Keep an eye out for missing or damaged property and unexplained bruises or other injuries.
If your child is old enough to use social media, it is important that you be mindful of accounts and online activity. Cyberbullying occurs when someone posts mean messages, spreads rumors, pretends to be someone else, or distributes embarrassing pictures or information online. Cyberbullying is on the rise and can easily go undetected if adults are not clued in to online activity.
Any signs of self-harm or suicidal ideation, even if they don’t seem credible, should be taken very seriously and call for immediate intervention.
If your child tells you that he or she is being bullied, the most important thing you can do is listen.
If your child tells you that he or she is being bullied, the most important thing you can do is listen. Unless you have a very good reason not to, your default position should be to believe what your child tells you. Respond supportively by repeating back a summary of what you hear. Express empathy with phrases such as “I’m so sorry that is happening” or “That must be frightening for you.” Remind your child that it is not his or her fault.
Unless the situation clearly calls for swift intervention on your part, resist the urge to swoop in and try to fix it. Instead, be an ally and offer your support, while empowering your child to take meaningful and safe steps to change the situation.
5. Be an Ally
It may be appropriate to offer your child some coaching and practical help. Help your child make plans that minimize time alone. Children are more likely to be bullied when they are alone than when they are with a friend or in a group. Bullies typically look for victims to cry or show fear. Help your child practice not giving that response.
Encourage your child to ask for help from adults, if needed. Coordinate with school teachers or administrators to ensure that school is safe for your child.
Finally, resist instructing your child to ignore the bully or to fight back. Ignoring is rarely effective in situations of ongoing bullying, and fighting back can backfire and result in injury or trouble for the victim.
Facts About Bullying. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.stopbullying.gov/news/media/facts/
© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Betsy Smith, MEd, LPC-S, Bullying Topic Expert Contributor
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