How to Help Your Child with Bullying

Bullying is serious. Pay attention to your son or daughter.

Getting jokingly teased by a friend or a sibling is no big deal to most kids, and happens frequently. Bullying, however, can be a serious issue that is worth addressing with your children. This article explores what bullying is, how to tell if your child is being bullied, and how to help him or her deal with it.

What is bullying?

Bullying is aggressive, unwanted behavior toward someone. It can be repetitive and tormenting for the person being bullied.

Bullying involves anything from threats to physical attacks, and can include spreading rumors about someone, verbally insulting someone and excluding someone from a social group. 

The popular saying, "sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never hurt me," is simply not true, and bullying is to be taken seriously. In fact, the emotional pain of social exclusion or rejection is registered in the same way as physical pain is in the brain. In other words, bullying quite literally hurts, and can be extremely damaging to one's self-esteem and sense of safety.

How do I know if my child is being bullied?

Short of seeing physical injuries, it may be difficult to tell if your child is being bullied. Many kids are ashamed that they are being bullied and will not talk about it to their parents, but may hint at it. It is important to pay attention to and be emotionally present for your child in case he or she alludes to any kind of bullying that he or she may be experiencing.

You can also plant seeds of encouragement for them to speak with you or someone at school or another adult, should they ever have any problems with other students. Let them know how serious bullying is and encourage them to speak to someone whether they experience it themselves or see it among their peers.

Other signs to pay attention to include any reluctance to go to school or take the bus, increased anxiety about school, excessive moodiness, changed sleeping patterns or different eating patterns. These indications may be of bullying though could also point to another problem unrelated to kids at school.

Do not be afraid to ask your child about bullying and try to keep communication open about it.

How do I help my child who is being bullied?

If your son or daughter opens up to you about being bullied, the best place for you to start is by listening. Show your son or daughter that you are a safe person to talk to, that you will not judge them, and that you are genuinely concerned about their experience. Offer your child validation and praise for opening up to you and letting you know. This praise will encourage them to continue to reach out to you when things are not going well for them.

Try to understand your child's experience of the bullying. If he or she feels like he or she deserves it in any way, as many children may, it is important that you reassure them that the bully is acting inappropriately, and that no one deserves to be mistreated.

It also might be reassuring for your child to hear that bullying is common and that many experience it at some time or another in their lives.

Together, create a plan of action. This will likely involve speaking with a school counselor or teacher. Your school and community likely has policies, rules and programs around bullying. Stop the problem before it gets more serious. Help your child feel that he or she is part of a bigger solution to stop the bully from targeting other children as well. 

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