What to do if your child is being bullied
Parents are sometimes able to recognize that their child is being bullied rather quickly. Your child may frequently come home from school crying because of something someone else said or did, may have the physical marks of torn clothing or a bruised face, or may tell you that no one will sit with her at lunch. Other times, the clues are more difficult to see because your child may be embarrassed or ashamed. Pay attention for subtle clues like increased time spent alone, decreased time spent with friends, sudden decline in academic performance, or increased irritability and hostility. Contact your child's teacher if you're concerned as they are usually well aware of classroom dynamics.
If you think your child is being bullied the most important thing to do is focus on helping your child, rather than on changing the other child's behavior. Here are some tips to assist you:
- Talk to your child about what makes a good friend and help her identify her genuine friendships. Focus on fostering those friendships, instead of trying to get the bully to like her.
- Teach your child how to be assertive. This involves using I-statements, such as "I feel left out when I sit at the lunch table with you and you don't talk to me." It also means communicating feelings in a respectful, non-blaming way and takes practice. Parents will need to model this with one another at home.
- Enroll your child in classes/activities at the park district or a community center where he can meet kids outside of his school and develop other friendships.
- See if you're able to identify a specific reason as to why your child is being targeted. Through no fault of their own, sometimes kids are bullied due to something that is identifiable and changeable, such as being shy. Social skills groups and individual therapy can be extremely beneficial for these kids, as groups can build social skills and therapy can provide more individualized support.
- Being the victim of bullying can lead to anxiety, depression, substance abuse, among other issues. If you do not know how to handle it, or the way you are managing it does not seem to be working, find help!
What to do if your child is the bully
Parents usually find out from teachers that their child is the one doing the bullying, but there are signs that you can pick up at home. Do other kids not want to come over to your house? Is your child rarely invited over to other homes for playdates/hangout sessions/parties? Does your child frequently pick on his siblings? If your child does not appear to have many playdates and you are noticing that he is constantly making fun of, or taking the belongings of a sibling, then you may want to reach out to his teacher. Ask the teacher what types of behaviors your child displays in the classroom (i.e., angry, demanding, mean?) and what types of friendships your child has at school. That can provide you with a good starting point to determine if bullying behavior is occurring.
- If you determine that your child is engaging in bullying behavior, begin to gently point out how some of her negative behaviors make others feel. For example, "I noticed you just took that toy from your sister without asking. How do you think she feels? I wonder how you would feel if someone did that to you."
- Begin to gently connect how his behaviors directly impact how much time others want to spend with him, such as, "Your friends don't seem to like coming over anymore. What could you do differently so that they will feel welcome in your home?"
- Provide a lot of positive reinforcement for good social skills. Catch him being good as much as you can, and provide verbal praise and rewards to emphasize it.
- Kids bully others for many different reasons and it can be difficult to differentiate the root cause. It can be from issues such as low self-esteem, a lack of social skills, or hyperactivity and impulsivity. Figuring out the cause can assist you in choosing the correct path on which to intervene. Social skills groups can be extremely beneficial for learning how to interact with others more appropriately and also for managing hyperactivity and impulsivity, while individual therapy can be beneficial for improving self-esteem.
Please do not hesitate to contact me for a
consultation on how to handle bullying.