While bullying prevention is definitely important, knowing if your child is being bullied is also critical. If your child is being bullied, you want to act to help stop it, if possible. In addition, there are ways to help your child cope with teasing, bullying, or mean gossip, and lessen its lasting impact. And even if bullying isn’t an issue right in your house right now, it’s important to discuss it so your kids will be prepared if it does happen.
Signs of Bullying
Unless your child tells you about bullying — or has visible bruises or injuries — it can be difficult to figure out if it’s happening.
But there are some warning signs. Parents might notice kids acting differently or seeming anxious, or not eating, sleeping well, or doing the things they usually enjoy. When kids seem moodier or more easily upset than usual, or when they start avoiding certain situations (like taking the bus to school), it might be because of a bully.
Watch for these signs that your child might be dealing with a bully:
- school refusal
- frequent stomachaches, headaches and other physical complaints
- agitation and moodiness
- sleep disturbance (including nightmares and difficulty falling asleep)
- changes in eating habits
- appearing sad, lonely, anxious and/or depressed with no known cause
- avoiding peer interactions after school and on weekends
- talking about being alone at school
- increased self-blame
- feeling helpless or worthless
- afraid of riding the bus
- sudden change in school performance
- any communication about suicide* (i.e., “No one would care if I wasn’t alive.”)
Avoid assumptions. The most important thing to do is to listen to your child without judgment. Try to avoid questions like, “Did you say something to upset these kids?” or “Did you do something to them first?” I see this a lot in my practice. In an effort to figure out why a child is on the outside of the peer group, pa
rents evaluate what the child might have done. This makes the assumption that the victim caused the problem.
Your child needs your unconditional love and support right now. Chances are he’s doing enough self-blame when he can’t sleep at night; he needs you to listen with an open mind.
Here are some other strategies to discuss with kids that can help improve the situation and make them feel better:
- Avoid the bully and use the buddy system. Use a different bathroom if a bully is nearby and don’t go to your locker when there is nobody around. Make sure you have someone with you so that you’re not alone with the bully. Buddy up with a friend on the bus, in the hallways, or at recess — wherever the bully is. Offer to do the same for a friend.
- Hold the anger. It’s natural to get upset by the bully, but that’s what bullies thrive on. It makes them feel more powerful. Practice not reacting by crying or looking red or upset. It takes a lot of practice, but it’s a useful skill for keeping off of a bully’s radar. Sometimes kids find it useful to practice “cool down” strategies such as counting to 10, writing down their angry words, taking deep breaths, or walking away. Sometimes the best thing to do is to teach kids to wear a “poker face” until they are clear of any danger (smiling or laughing may provoke the bully).
- Act brave, walk away, and ignore the bully. Firmly and clearly tell the bully to stop, then walk away. Practice ways to ignore the hurtful remarks, like acting uninterested or texting someone on your cell phone. By ignoring the bully, you’re showing that you don’t care. Eventually, the bully will probably get bored with trying to bother you.
- Tell an adult. Teachers, principals, parents, and lunchroom personnel at school can all help stop bullying.
- Talk about it. Talk to someone you trust, such as a guidance counselor, teacher, sibling, or friend. They may offer some helpful suggestions, and even if they can’t fix the situation, it may help you feel a little less alone.
Dealing with bullying can erode a child’s confidence. To help restore it, encourage your kids to spend time with friends who have a positive influence. Participation in clubs, sports, or other enjoyable activities builds strength and friendships.
Provide a listening ear about difficult situations, but encourage your kids to also tell you about the good parts of their day, and listen equally attentively. Make sure they know you believe in them and that you’ll do what you can to address any bullying that occurs.
One way to restore confidence is through martial arts. You wouldn’t believe the difference it makes until it’s happening right in front of you! We’d love to have you come in for a 30-day-free trial to see if this is something that could help your child.