How do we know; How do we help?
Most school-aged children have been exposed to bullying in some form. Bullying is a prevalent form of youth violence, common in school settings, defined as aggressive behavior that repeatedly occurs over time. It can include verbal, physical, and/or social behaviors that intend to cause physical, social, and/or psychological harm. Statistics show that one in five children has experienced bullying. It is most common in childhood and usually peaks in the early adolescent years. Bullying can happen in person or online and can have negative immediate, medium, and long-term effects on those involved, including bystanders.
Often, a child who is being bullied will not tell their parents or teachers for fear of the bullying worsening. As parents, it is important to recognize changes in our children that could indicate that they are being bullied.
Behavioral Signs of Bullying
Emotional/behavioral signs of bullying can include changes in sleep patterns, changes in eating patterns, frequent tears or anger, mood swings, saying they do not feel good on school mornings, becoming withdrawn, stammering, becoming aggressive, targeting siblings, losing and/or stealing money, falling grades, and changes in patterns before and after school.
Physical Signs of Bullying
Physical signs of bullying can include unexplained and/or excessive bruises, cuts and scratches, missing belongings, damaged belongings, hunger when they come home from school, and a child becoming increasingly insecure or frightened.
How to Help
So how, as parents, can we help? The number one reason children do not tell their parents they have been bullied is that they are afraid their parents will become upset and will react in anger, which they worry will make the bullying worse. As parents, if we suspect bullying, it is important to take a listening versus reacting approach (which can be very hard to do).
We need to listen. Children want to tell their stories and want to be heard. After they share what has happened, ask your child what they want to happen. Most kids will say they want the bullying to end. Surprisingly, most kids do not express wishes for revenge as they worry this could make things worse. Remind your child that bullying is never OK and that no matter what they are feeling, (hurt, scared, angry) their feelings are normal. This can help a great deal as anxiety reduces when a person feels heard and when their feelings are validated. It is important for children to know that these feelings are normal and that there is nothing wrong with them for feeling like they do. It is also important for the child to know that staying at home is not an option and can even worsen the bullying.
As parents, alert the school about the problem and request a meeting, but it is important to go prepared. You need to know your school’s bullying policy and take notes, photos, and copies of texts about specific incidents (and include the dates). Ask what is, or will be, done to ensure your child is safe, and make a follow-up appointment at that meeting to review the efficacy of their safety plan for your child.
Encourage your child not to get angry when bullying occurs, as this encourages the bully. Teach them alternate responses like using neutral or joking language, acting bored and unimpressed, and encourage your child to join clubs or other school activities to build friend groups and increase their self-esteem.