An estimated one third of all children are bullied at some time, and with the advent of online or cyber-bullying, that percentage will only rise. Parents can take action to both help prevent bullying and help children cope with abusive behavior when it does occur.
Follow these ten tips to make a difference in your child’s life:
(1) Take bullying seriously. Bullying is more than harmless teasing. It is the intentional tormenting of another through verbal, physical, or psychological means. It can have long-reaching effects on a child, including damaged self-esteem and a reduced sense of safety. Severe cases of bullying have occasionally been associated with suicide, school shootings, and other violent responses.
(2) Know the warning signs. Kids are often reluctant to let their parents know when there are being bullied. Be a vigilant parent and watch for such signs of trouble as increased anxiety or moodiness, changes in eating or sleeping habits, unexplained loss of possessions or money, avoidance of certain social situations, or poor performance in school.
(3) Create anti-victimization/ anti-bullying habits in your child. To some extent, you may be able to “bully-proof” your child by teaching habits that make someone less likely to be the target of abusive behavior. Some of these include:
- Treat friends and classmates with respect; e.g., take turns in games and engage in fair play.
- Avoid pushing, hitting, or teasing other children.
- If someone bullies you, immediately tell him or her to stop, then walk away and tell someone.
- Avoid known bullies.
(4) Teach your child how to respond to a bullying episode. If your child is being bullied, these pointers may help diffuse the situation:
- Use a buddy system. Hang out with a friend when you are on the bus, in hallways, or going to your locker – anywhere you might run into the bully.
- Don’t show negative feelings. Hold back anger or hurt feelings in front of the bully. Count to 10 or take deep breaths; learn to show a “poker” face.
- If confronted, firmly say, “Stop,” then walk away and ignore the bully; e.g., pretend to text someone on your phone.
- Tell an adult you trust. Seek out a teacher, principal, or other adult, and let your parents know what is happening.
- Talk about your feelings. Confide in someone, such as a friend, counselor, or sibling. Express your feelings, and listen to any helpful advice.
(5) Create an atmosphere of respect. Children learn how to respect themselves and others first by what happens in their own homes. Make sure you model respectful but assertive behavior with others, whether family members or other people with whom you and your children come in contact; e.g., sales clerks, neighbors or other drivers. Don’t lose your cool when conflicts occur, and don’t quietly accept aggressive behavior from others. At home, teach siblings to play fairly with each other.
(6) Listen to and talk with your child every day. Regular, positive communication creates a home atmosphere that makes children more likely to share when they have a problem. Find time each day to talk with your children about what is going on in their lives.
(7) Help your child open up. Children are often hesitant to share that they have been bullied, due to embarrassment or fear of the parent’s reaction. If you suspect your child has been victimized, broach the subject by talking about an experience you or another family member may have had. Or use movies or TV shows that depict bullying as a way to begin the conversation. Ask, “Has something like this ever happened to you?” Get problems out in the open so they can be dealt with.
(8) Provide comfort and support. If your child reports a bullying incident, keep calm, listen, and offer support and reassurance. Understand that your child may feel ashamed or embarrassed that this has happened, concerned that you will be disappointed in them, or afraid that you will over-react. Instead, praise your child for confiding in you. Provide reassurance that you will figure out what to do together.
(9) Enlist other adults. If bullying occurs within the school environment; e.g., in classes, on the school bus, or at a sporting event, let school personnel know what has happened. Someone in authority can monitor the situation and take steps to prevent further incidents. In severe cases, you may need to contact legal authorities. Many states and communities have anti-bullying laws. Don’t be afraid to invoke them if bullying is persistent or severe.
10. Consider professional assistance. If your child appears frequently depressed or anxious and faced severe bullying, consider professional help. Children may internalize what has happened to them and believe that it’s their fault or that they are not worthy of positive treatment. While parental support can go a long way, some children may benefit from mental health intervention.
By following these tips, parents can better equip their children to handle bullying more effectively and build positive peer relationships.