Most of us have been exposed to a less-than-friendly peer environment at one point or another in life. Kids have always picked on other kids, and in the past, many of these situations were not that serious.
But bullying isn’t what it used to be. Today’s kids have access to tools that have made bullying a serious event. Modern victims of bullying are at risk for emotional damage and exposure to bullying can affect physical health and academic performance for the rest of a person’s life.
What can you do to help your child deal with bullying?
1. Recognize Modern Bullying
Many parents make the mistake of thinking bullying is the same as teasing or joking around with peers. Though teasing can develop into something more serious, bullying is a far more significant issue than “kids being kids.”
Bullying is aggressive, repeated, and intentionally tries to harm or intimidate someone. It might be based on a child’s physical appearance, economic status, disability or disorder, minority status, or gender or sexual orientation. Bullying can include physical, verbal, or psychological action or a combination of each of these things.
Bullying can occur in-person or electronically, which is especially dangerous in today’s world because the anonymous nature of the online world invites people to say things they would never say face-to-face.
Parents need to realize that just because their child isn’t being beaten on the playground doesn’t mean he or she isn’t a victim of bullying.
2. Acknowledge the Consequences of Bullying
Some parents take the approach that being picked on a little bit by peers builds character. In addition to this not being true, this approach is even more harmful when it comes to modern bullying.
Victims of bullying frequently experience a wide range of problems, including:
Alcohol or drug use
Suicidal thought or behaviors
Bullying can have severe and lifelong consequences for your child, so it’s important to address it if you believe it might be happening.
3. Learn to Recognize the Signs Your Child Might Be a Victim of Bullying
It’s not enough to know that bullying exists. As a parent, you also need to know the tell-tale signs that your child is being bullied. Your job is to protect your child and be a resource when he or she is faced with a difficult situation.
According to Karyn Erkfritz-Gay, PhD, NCSP, BCBA-D, LCP, psychologist and manager of youth mental health at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital, “As a parent, you can help your children by being an advocate for their mental and physical health involving bullying that can happen at school, online or via text messages.” It’s your job to be proactive and do everything in your power to protect your child from bullying.
Chances are your child won’t be open with you about what’s happening if he or she is being bullied. There might be feelings of embarrassment, shame, or mistrust. By knowing what things might indicate bullying, you can stay a step ahead of the problem.
Some of the most common warning signs of bullying include:
Nightmares or sleeping problems
Physical ailments that aren’t linked to any specific cause
Poor school performance or problems with attendance
Sudden loss of friends or change in social circle
Self-destructive behavior or self-harm
Change in eating habits
Distress after spending time online or with peers
4. Know How to Communicate with Your Child about Bullying and Other Issues
Often, the easiest way to recognize and deal with bullying is to have frequent conversations with your child. Taking an interest in his or her life and being open to talking about all topics is one of the most important things you can do as a parent.
If you suspect there might be an issue with bullying, don’t be afraid to bring it up. You might not want to approach the topic aggressively, but steer the conversation in the direction of peers and what’s going on when you aren’t around.
5. Create a Plan for Responding
Hopefully, your child will never be bullied. But in this day and age, it’s important to plan for the worst-case scenario. Assume your child might fall victim to bullying at some point and have a plan in place for how to respond.
It’s also a good idea to be proactive and speak to your child in advance about how to handle bullying. Children should know there are tools available to help them reduce their risk for bullying and respond to it appropriately if it occurs.
You might also address what your child can do if he or she witnesses another kid being bullied. The more children there are empowered to stand up to bullying, the less likely bullies are to act out.
Anyone can be a victim of bullying, but bullies tend to move on to another victim when their first choice responds with confidence. Helping your child develop self-esteem and the tools needed to combat bullying is one of the best things you can do as a parent to make sure bullying doesn’t affect your child long-term.