Childhood bullying is a serious problem today. We have tons of research that shows a person who experiences bullying as a child is more likely to struggle with mental health conditions like anxiety and depression later in life. Bullying behavior also increases the risk for self-harm, especially in females.
Those prone to bullying as a child are more likely to commit adult bullying later in life. Adult bullies are often aware of their negative behavior but cannot stop it; playground bullying turns into workplace bullying as they age.
The really surprising thing about bullying is not how destructive it is, but rather how shockingly common it is. Recent studies show us that 1 in 5 high school students reports being bullied at school, and 1 in every 6 students has been bullied online. These stats demonstrate just how crucial it is that we put a major focus on learning how to prevent bullying, instituting positive behavioral interventions, and keeping our kids healthy and happy.
Read on to learn about the signs you should be aware of and what steps you can take to ensure the young people in your life feel supported, loved, and most importantly, safe, in their day-to-day life.
1. Be Aware of the Signs of Bullying
Bullying often goes unreported, which can make preventing bullying challenging. That said, even if a bullied child is silent, they’re likely to show changes in behavior that might suggest something is happening in their life.
Some common warning signs of bullying might include:
- Unexplained injuries
- Missing belongings
- A sudden decline in grades
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Coming home from school hungry
- Struggling to get out of bed
- Asking to stay home from school
- Nausea or stomach aches, especially on school nights
- Frequent mood swings
“Learning the signs and getting educated on how to help your children can prevent future mental health issues.”
These behaviors aren’t always a sign of bullying, but they can be a good indicator that something might be going on. You always want to take warning signs seriously. If your child is behaving in unusual ways, you suspect something is happening in their life, or you’re concerned that they need help, sit down and encourage them to talk to you.
Remind them that your job is to ensure their safety, and that you’ll do whatever you can to help them.
2. Teach Your Child About Bullying
Sadly, in many ways bullying has become somewhat normalized, which means a young person may not even realize that certain behaviors or experiences are unacceptable.
Have open, honest discussions with your child about what bullying is and learn what the different types of bullying are. Let them know that insults, threats, unwanted physical contact, spreading rumors, and excluding others are all examples of verbal bullying behavior that should not be tolerated.
“Some parents or guardians may think that dealing with bullying is an element of growing up and becoming stronger. This affects children tremendously, since they might then stay quiet or not report the abuse due to fear.”
It’s important to encourage your child to talk about bullying. Make sure you give them ample opportunities to open up about what’s going on in their world. A great opportunity for check ins can be found when kids get home from school. Ask open-ended questions about what they did throughout the day. Listen to what they’re saying and reassure them that you’re always there for them.
3. Monitor Internet Access
When people look at how to prevent bullying, they often focus on bullying at school. However, cyberbullying — online bullying — can also cause significant psychological distress, according to studies.
Since most cyberbullying takes place outside of school, it can sometimes be hard to persuade schools to intervene when a child’s being bullied online. This makes it even more important for parents to find ways to prevent bullying at home.
Teach your child about cyberbullying and make sure they know not to respond to harmful messages. Keep computers in open areas in your home and monitor your child’s text messages and online behavior and activity so you’ll be more likely to see if they’re being harassed. There are some great apps out there that alert parents to potential problems. Some of our favorites include:
4. Help Your Child Become More Assertive
When a young person is being bullied, they often feel helpless. By teaching your child to be assertive, you can give them strategies to stand up to bullies. Let children know that it’s okay to say “no” and that they should stand their ground when someone asks them to do something they’re not comfortable with. Most importantly, they should be reassured time and again that if they need help, they can (and should) ask for it.
Learning to be assertive is key to preventing bullying. Not only are assertive children less likely to be bullied, they’re also more likely to speak up to a teacher or school personnel when others are being harassed. Teach your child the importance of the concept: if you see something, say something. That is, if they see someone being mistreated, they should intervene. Note, this doesn’t always mean confronting a bully. If your child doesn’t feel comfortable getting directly involved, tell them to go find a teacher or another adult immediately.
5. Be Aware of School Policies
Not all schools handle bullying in the same way, which is why you should take the time to learn more about the policies at your child’s school. Read through the school handbook so you can see the school’s guidelines for behavior. Being familiar with a school’s rules can be helpful if you ever have to report school bullying.
If your child is being bullied, contact the school staff and schedule an in-person meeting. Be clear about your concerns and ask the school personnel what plans they have in place. If their policy is lacking, make your expectations known. Moving forward, everyone should be on the same bullying prevention path. Let the school staff know that you’ll be documenting all incidents of school bullying and that you’ll escalate the situation if necessary. Inquire if the school has a bullying prevention program in place to protect its students.
6. Work on Coping Strategies
Know that some schools won’t always respond to bullying immediately, unfortunately. This is why it’s essential to find ways to prevent bullying that your child can implement right away. Look for things that can help build your child’s confidence and improve their well-being. For example:
- Think about enrolling them in a new activity, like a dance class or martial arts, to help improve their mood and meet other people.
- Talk about what to do the next time they’re bullied at school.
- If they’re afraid, encourage them to ignore the bully and leave the area when approached.
- Tell them to have a plan in place so they know where to go for help.
- Help them get a therapist for a safe outlet if they have been bullied or are being affected by bullying
Discussing these strategies can help your child feel less anxious and minimize the stress they have to deal with until the situation is resolved.
7. Advocate for Your Child
Bullying can make children feel isolated. As a parent, you always want to go above and beyond to show your child that you’re there for them. Make a point of openly advocating to let them know they’re not alone in this fight.
Ways you can show your child that you’re their biggest advocate include:
- Talk with teachers and administrators about your child’s situation and how to resolve bullying if they are a victim of it.
- Get involved if there’s an anti-bullying program at your child’s school.
- If there’s not a program, work with other parents to create one.
- Participate at school board and PTA meetings so you can make your voice heard.
While you might not be able to put an immediate stop to the bullying, you can show your child that you’re on their team and willing to do whatever it takes to protect them.
“The early intervention of an adult can make a world of difference in a child’s life.”
8. Seek Professional Help
Bullying is common, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK. We should be doing anything and everything possible to change the prevalence of bullying. The serious, long-lasting effects can follow a child into adulthood, or worse, become too much for them to bear. The link between bullying and suicide or suicidal ideation has been clearly demonstrated in multiple studies. Perhaps surprisingly, this link has been associated with bullying in any capacity, for both the bully and the bullied.
The bottom line is this: we must help our children understand how to prevent bullying and show them what they can do if they or someone they know is being bullied. As adults, it’s essential to be willing to seek help if needed. While there are coping strategies that can help children learn ways to prevent bullying, it can still take a toll on their confidence and mental health. If this is the case, you might need professional help.
Be ready to report bullying to schools and if needed, look for a therapist to show your child they have plenty of support. A mental health professional can help children work through trauma and build healthy coping skills that they’ll be able to use in the future. The stress of bullying can be overwhelming, but bullied children can learn to thrive, especially when they have you on their side rooting for them.
Bullying can impact a child’s life significantly. As parents, you need support in helping your child during this challenging time in their life. Talkspace offers online therapy that your family can turn to for help with healing from bullying.
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