Bullying impacts millions of children each year and can show up in a myriad of ways, including name-calling, spreading rumors, social exclusion and physical attacks i.e., pushing, tripping, pulling hair, etc. Complaining of stomachaches, acting withdrawn, low self-esteem, self-injury and dropping grades are all signs that your child might be experiencing bullying.
If your child or a child you know approaches you to inform you they are being bullied, follow these simple tips below.
1. Believe them.
This is the time to calmly listen and validate your child’s feelings. No need to immediately find out the bully’s name or call the school principal. First, just remind your child that it is not their fault and that their feelings of anger, sadness, fear and embarrassment are normal and understandable. You want to find out what happened, but you also want to find out how this experience made your child feel. It is also important for your child to know that it is not okay for anyone to mistreat them.
After you have listened to your child and they are feeling your support, it is important to…
2. Remain calm.
Many children are afraid to tell their parents when they are being bullied because they are afraid their parents will over-react and cause them to feel additional embarrassment and social rejection. It is important to preserve the trust your child is instilling in you by remaining calm and empowering your child to solve the problem with you (as opposed to you solving it for them).
Once your child has shared their feelings with you and you have told your inner mama-bear (or papa-bear) to stand down…
3. Help them think of solutions to their problem.
What can your child say or do next time they are confronted by their bully? Help them create a list of responses they can use, such as, “Leave me alone” or “That’s not my name. I would like for you to call me ____.” It is important to encourage language that is direct and not antagonizing. You can also help your child practice their responses by role-playing different scenarios. Experts suggest that children practice using a firm, confident tone of voice if they choose to respond to their bully. In addition to helping your child prepare for how they might respond to their bully, it is also helpful to…
4. Identify who they can turn to for support.
It is critical to your child’s academic and emotional functioning they feel safe and supported at school. Difficulty concentrating due to excessive worrying can lead to poor grades and social withdrawal. Encourage your child to practice the buddy system, since bullies are less likely to confront a group than an individual. You can also help your child identify a few adults who they feel comfortable confiding in, such as a teacher, counselor or other staff member. This adult ought to demonstrate empathy for your child’s experience and not be dismissive of your child’s feelings. It is important that your child feel cared for and protected, both at home and at school. Your child’s bully has retreated, but you’re afraid your child will have a similar experience in the future. What’s next?
5. Continue to build their self-image.
High self-esteem and confidence are a bully’s kryptonite. Help your child improve their self-image by pointing out their strengths and unique qualities. Are they perseverant? Creative? Great at solving problems? Encourage them to engage in activities that perpetuate feelings of pride, including hobbies, sports, and other talents. These activities can range from winning a board game at home, to baking a cake, to completing a difficult puzzle. Your child will feel proud when they are able to accomplish something. You can also help your child build their self-image by helping them create a support system of family and friends. Emotional connection and shared experiences will help your child feel more accepted for who they are, and therefore make them less susceptible to the criticisms of bullies. When is the last time you picked your child’s brain to really understand their thoughts, views, and preferences? Just a simple conversation can help your child feel important and worthy of respect. And of course…
6. Seek professional support if needed.
If bullying has impacted your child’s self-esteem, academic performance, or ability to enjoy time with friends and family, it might be time to seek professional help from a therapist. Your child’s therapist will help them process the big feelings associated with bullying, rebuild their self-esteem, and challenge any negative beliefs about themselves. You might also consider encouraging your child’s teacher to refer the bully to their own therapy services, since bullies often exert their power when they feel powerless, disrespected or invisible at home.
Megan Bunting, ASW is a clinical therapist in The Guidance Center’s Long Beach Outpatient Program where she helps guide children and families struggling with mental health conditions or abuse toward positive and productive futures. She is especially passionate about helping families heal, communicate and connect through play. Before joining The Guidance Center team in 2018 as an intern, Bunting worked as a residential counselor at an emergency shelter for runaway and exploited teens. Bunting earned a Master’s Degree in Social Work at Cal State Los Angeles.