Has your child been acting out of the ordinary lately for no apparent reason? Maybe they’ve become withdrawn and depressed or are have lost all interest in the things they used to love doing. Or maybe they’re not sleeping well, not eating much or acting up at home and lashing out their siblings. If so, it’s possible they may be dealing with a bully.
Bullying is a very serious issue that has been getting a huge amount of attention in the media over the past few years, and for good reason. It happens all the time in all age groups, and can range from name calling to exclusion, verbal threats and physical violence. For the victims of bullying the effects can be traumatic and long-lasting, and in extreme cases bullying can even result in serious injuries or suicide.
The tricky thing about bullying is that it’s not often easy to detect. Many children who are bullied feel ashamed and don’t want to tell their parents what is happening to them because they are afraid their parents might be disappointed in them. They might also be scared that that their parents will freak out or urge them to fight back when they really don’t want to, or that the bully will find out and retaliate with even more aggression.
Warning Signs of Bullying
Some obvious signs of bullying to look out for include physical injuries like bruises or cuts that your child can’t explain or that they make up dubious excuses for. They may also come home with damaged belongings like ripped or dirty clothing, or consistently be ‘losing’ personal items like jewellery, gadgets, books or toys.
A sudden change in behavior should also be a big red flag. For example, if your child is normally outgoing and happy but starts acting anxious, moody and reclusive, there could be a problem they’re not telling you about. They may also start avoiding certain situations like walking to school along a certain route, or fake illnesses to get out of going to school or extracurricular activities.
Falling grades could be another indicator that all is not right. Many children who are being bullied find it hard to focus in class, or they simply lose interest in topics that once interested them. Others might purposely do poorly in class to avoid being taunted for being a teacher’s pet or a nerd. So before you punish your child for falling behind, you might want to look into whether there are other factors at play.
How to Handle Bullying
It is important to let your children know that they can talk to you about anything that is bothering them and that you will support them no matter what it is. Kids tend to open up a bit more right before they go to bed, so this can be a good time to have a chat with them about bullying. Explain what bullying is and ask them if they have experienced anything like that or have ever seen anyone else being bullied.
Your child might still be reluctant to open up to you, in which case you shouldn’t push them too hard. Let them know that you’re there for them if they need it, but give them a bit of space. And let them know that there are plenty of people they can reach out to if they need to besides their parents like teachers, a guidance counselor, an aunt or uncle, or even an older sibling.
If your child does tell you about how they are being bullied, stay calm and rational. Of course just the thought of someone hurting your baby will have you seeing red, but getting all worked up about it will only make your son or daughter more anxious. Resist the urge to run straight to the school principal or confront the other child’s parents, as this may not be the best way to resolve the issue. Instead take some time to cool down and come up with a game plan that will best benefit your child.
How you handle the situation really depends on a number of factors like the age of your child, the nature of the bullying and the severity of the situation. In some cases you may need to notify the school, especially if there are threats or physical violence involved. Many schools have anti-bullying policies in place, so they can take the necessary steps to stop the bullying. In other cases it may be best to give your child some advice, let them know that you’re 100% behind them, and then let them sort it out themselves.
Advice to Give to Kids Who Are Being Bullied
- Stay calm. Try not to get angry or upset, because this is exactly the reaction the bully wants. Take a deep breath, count to five and calmly tell the bully to stop what they are doing.
- If possible, walk away from the situation. Don’t fight back, because this will only cause the situation to get worse. Don’t stoop to the bully’s level, instead take the higher road.
- Tell an adult what is going on or at least talk to someone you trust. That person may be able to help in some way. Plus sometimes just talking about it can make you feel better.
- Remember that you’re not alone. Lots of people have experienced bullying at some point in their life and can understand how you’re feeling. And there are plenty of people who are on your side and can help you through this.
- There are some online support groups for kids where they can learn more about how best to respond to bullies. Pacer kids against bullying for example is a fantastic online resource targeted at kids.