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Published on October 23, 2020

How to Help Your Kids to Deal with Bullies at School

How to Help Your Kids to Deal with Bullies at School

Sara is in her first year of Junior High. Every day, when Sara walks down the school hallway between her mid-morning classes, there is a group of girls who will tease, push her, or dump her books from her arms.

She wonders daily what she did to deserve their meanness. She doesn’t even know these girls as they came from a different primary school than her own. Every evening, she lays in bed and cries just thinking about having to encounter these girls in the hallway the next day.

Jeremy used to be good friends with Bill until Bill started calling Jeremy names. At first, it started as what seemed to be Bill trying to get a laugh from the other boys on his soccer team. He would make fun of Jeremy to get a laugh from the other boys. He has continued with the behavior for weeks, but it has gotten worse and Bill now calls Jeremy hurtful names at their soccer practice every day. Jeremy is thinking about quitting soccer because the situation has become so bad.

Renee was born with a congenital defect. Her arm is malformed and she only has three fingers on one hand. She is in her first year of primary school. There is a little boy in her class who makes fun of her arm and mimics her arm movements and shortened arm effect anytime they are together and a teacher isn’t watching. Renee cries at home after school saying that she doesn’t want to go to school anymore. Her parents are bewildered as she has been begging to go to school for years. Now that she is old enough to be enrolled in primary school, she doesn’t want to attend anymore after just one month of school. Her parents have no idea what is causing her to be upset and not want to go to school.

These are just three examples of bullying. Bullying can vary widely in behavior and context. Parents must know the difference between “kids just being kids” and bullying.

Bullying Defined

Bullying involves repeated behavior that harms another child. For example, the girls who continually pick on Sara in the hallway are bullying her by dumping her books, pushing her, and shoving her every day.

Bullying is not always physical, though. For example, in the situation of Jeremy, his teammate Bill is bullying him by calling him names repeatedly.

StopBullying.gov is a website about bullying that is hosted by the United States government. This website provides a clear definition of bullying as the following:[1]

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems. In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include [an imbalance of power and repetition].

An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.

Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

Bullying is aggressive, mean, and/or unwanted behaviors that happen repeatedly to a child.

Intervention

Bullying, especially for kids, requires immediate intervention. If your child suddenly decides that they no longer want to go to school or that they want to quit an activity, then a discussion should occur. Sit down with your child, and ask them what is going on in their life.

Have compassion, understanding, and care in your words and tone of voice so that your child can open up to you. You never know if they are being a victim of bullying unless they open up to you and share what is occurring in their life.

Some children don’t share immediately because they are embarrassed by the bullying. Others don’t tell their parents because they are afraid of the bully. They worry that if they tell, the wrath of the bully may get worse. This should also be a concern for the parents.

Any intervention must be effective in removing the threat of the bully. If reporting the situation makes the bully’s behavior worse, then the intervention has failed.

Talk to School Leadership

Parents should talk to school leadership, such as the teacher, counselor, or principal when a bullying situation is occurring. If the bullying is happening at school, then the staff should be made aware so that they can intervene.

Most schools have policies and protocols in place for handling bullies. Such things may include separating the students so that they aren’t interacting anymore.

For example, with the situation of Renee, the boy who makes fun of her arm may be moved away from the school table they currently share. He would be moved to a separate side of the classroom so that he couldn’t easily communicate or make fun of Renee.

Then, the counselor would talk to the boy about how his actions are hurtful and why he shouldn’t be making fun of anyone. The teacher and principal may have to implement consequences, such as removal from class or suspension, that are made clear to the student and his parent if he continues his behavior.

In many instances, removing the opportunity for the students to interact is the best way for the bullying to stop. If the bully doesn’t have the opportunity to interact or communicate with the victim, their bullying behavior is stopped. This is the reason why in many instances of bullying parents need to involve school staff members (if it is happening at school).

Parents can’t control where the students sit in the classroom. However, the school can change where students sit in the classroom. Parents should speak to the school about the bullying to ensure that appropriate interventions are made, including separating the bully from their victim.

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Parents

Parents are advocates for their children. If parents do not stand up to protect their child, then who will? When a situation of bullying is revealed by a child, the parents need to take the information seriously.

Unfortunately, many parents of bullies don’t want to admit that their child is a bully. It can look and feel like they failed as parents. When a child is being bullied, that parent may reach out to the bully’s parent for intervention only to be put off. The bully’s parent may claim it is the other child’s fault, or they may insist that their child is innocent.

This is why intervention should happen at the school if possible. Parents must advocate protecting their children as bullying can leave mental and emotional scars. The sooner they can get the bullying to cease, the better.

Bullying Can Have Serious Effects

Victims of bullying can develop depression and anxiety. The ongoing bullying can impact a child mentally and emotionally long term. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center cites research that shows that both bullies and their victims are at an increased risk for suicide.[2] In recent years, suicide has been increasing among teens and pre-teens. Bullying, including cyberbullying, is one of the primary causes for the increase in suicide among our youth.

The serious—and sometimes even deadly—effects of bullying should be considered by all parents. If a child comes forward to reveal a situation of bullying, affecting either them or someone else, then parents and adults must intervene. Schools are set up to handle these situations, with policies and protocols in place. The consequences of bullying can be quite serious, which is why most schools have taken steps to institute bullying policies.

Signs of Bullying

Not all kids will come forward to tell their parents that they are being bullied. Parents should be aware of behavioral changes in their child, such as depression, anxiety, sadness, loss of interest in activities or school, sleeping issues, not eating, irritability, and moodiness. If your child exhibits any of these behaviors for a period of two weeks or more, then it is time to talk to the child about what is happening in their life.

A parent who suspects bullying may be happening can talk to their child about bullying in general. The parent can explain what bullying can look like, or they can provide an example that has happened in their own life. They can explain that it is not the victim’s fault.

Let the child know that if they see other children being bullied or if they are experiencing bullying, then they need to tell an adult (preferably you as the parent). When the child believes that telling can help the situation, that child is likely to then talk about it.

How to Help Your Kids

If your child is being bullied, you can and should help them. You can do it not only via intervention within the school but also by helping them cope with the situation.

The first step is talking—having the child open up and talk about what is happening so that you can help them with strategies to stop the bullying. You can’t help them unless you know what is actually happening.

Here are some more ways that you can help your child who is dealing with a bully:

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1. Advise Them to Avoid the Bully

If they aren’t exposed to the bully, then the bullying often stops. This is often why school intervention is needed so that the kids are separated and no longer have interactions.

If it is cyberbullying taking place (e.g., your child is being bullied on social media) then they may need to block the person who is bullying them or put their own account on hold.

2. Advise Them to Walk Away and Not Engage

Many bullies thrive on reaction. The reaction from the person being bullied is what fuels their behavior. They may be doing it to make others laugh, or they do it to feel power over another person. If the reaction from the one being bullied goes away, then the bully may become less interested.

You should advise your kids to not engage with a bully. Walking away without reacting is a good way of handling the bully.

3. Let Them Know It Is Okay to Get Help

The child should feel empowered to get help when they need it. For example, if Jeremy stays in soccer and the coach is informed about what is happening and the bullying happens again, Jeremy should tell the coach.

He can do it confidentially after practice, or he can talk to the coach off to the side during practice if possible. If Jeremy needs intervention for Bill to stop, then he needs to ask for help when it happens.

4. Build Their Confidence

Often, a bully chooses to bully someone because they see the person as a weak or easy target. Other times, a child is picked on because there is something about them that is different. Building up your child’s confidence and self-esteem is important to helping them prepare for handling bullying in the future.

For example, if another child makes fun of Renee’s arm next year in her new class, she would be prepared to shut it down by defending herself confidently with calm words that deter the child from making fun of her again.

Every situation is different. But if your child has something that makes them different or stand out from others, then they can be prepared to handle the situation better if they know in advance what they would say to someone who picks on them for this difference.

5. Encourage Them to Have Positive Friendships

Children and youth need peer relationships. This helps them live a balanced and healthy life. A child without peer relationships and friendships is more likely to be a target of bullies.

Encourage your child to make friends with others who are positive and kind. Help your child develop these skills as well. You can’t get friends unless you can be a friend.

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Be There for Your Child

One of the worst things that a parent can do when their child is being bullied is for them to say “tough it out” or “kids will be kids”. Not taking their situation seriously and not helping them is failing them. Parents must be willing to not only listen to their child and allow them to express things openly, but they must also be ready to help their child.

If your child comes to you because they are being bullied, then take the situation seriously. The lasting effects of bullying are not something you will want to deal with in the future. Deal with the situation at hand so that the bullying can cease today.

Be prepared to take serious action. If your school principal is not taking the situation seriously, then take it to the next level. Inform the school board or school administrators about what is happening. Keep the facts, and let them know you want the bullying to stop immediately.

If the school doesn’t take any action and the bully continues to be a threat to your child, then be prepared to remove your child from the situation or the school, so you can protect your child from harm. Above all else, our job as parents is to protect our children.

Bullying is not a one-time instance of someone saying something mean to your child. Bullying is a repeated act, whether physically or verbally, that is harming your child. Don’t allow your child to be repeatedly harmed. Once you know that bullying is happening, it must be stopped immediately through appropriate interventions.

Get Additional Help if Needed

If your child has been bullied and is suffering from depression, anxiety, or other emotional turmoil because of bullying then they should get professional help. You can go to Psychology Today and enter your location to find a qualified therapist near you. This website allows you to search by issue and treatment age as well. This can help you find a therapist near you who can help your child with their specific issues.

Stomp Out Bullying is another website with additional support and information about bullying. They offer a free chat line to teens who are experiencing bullying. If your teen is being bullied and needs additional support check out their website today.

Final Thoughts

Bullying, especially for kids, is a serious matter that should be addressed as soon as possible. It can bring long-term psychological and physical damage to your children if you don’t act on it immediately. Your primary role as a parent is to protect your child from harm. This guide can help you help your kids to deal with bullies to get them out of harm’s way.

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] StopBullying.gov: What Is Bullying
[2] Suicide Prevention Resource Center: Suicide and Bullying

More by this author

Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Published on November 12, 2020

How to Identify And Play to Your Child’s Strengths

How to Identify And Play to Your Child’s Strengths

As you sit there, perhaps on a sofa, maybe a lounge chair, or while you’re sharing a meal at the table, you glance over to the pride and joy you are happy each day to call your child. They smile back, running around the table they learned to stand up using or kiss you on the cheek as they snatch your car keys for their first (or second, but what feels like hopefully the last) errand using your car. You watch as they take their plate from the table, ask if anyone needs anything on their way to the sink, and then finally meander towards the living room saying to you, “Bed fort after dinner?”

How respectful! How creative! Such initiative!

What you may not realize is that because we don’t often think about this in the day-to-day of parenting, your child’s strengths—the initiative, creativity, drive, passion, and introspective nature that turns other people off—are cultivated daily!

If you’ve never given thoughts to your child’s inherent strengths, that’s okay. As is all too common, you’re conditioned to only look at what they need to fix.[1]

Turns out, identifying, cultivating, and managing your child’s strengths isn’t very difficult. In fact, much of those three steps can occur during a visit to the park. Let’s discover simple and effective ways to highlight your child’s strengths.

Identifying Strengths

Now, I know what you may be thinking: between office meetings, Zoom sessions, laundry, and grocery shopping, when exactly do I have time to become a psychologist?

I get it. But really, identifying your child’s strengths is not difficult. In fact, a simple exercise usually suffices—participate in their play!

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Participate in Their Play

Play can take many forms and is usually defined as an activity that does not bring extrinsic value to be enjoyed—us adults typically refer to these activities as “hobbies.” Whether your child is two or thirteen, children are children, after all, and play is essential.

According to a report from the University of Utah, play is a way for children to practice “problem-solving, self-control, and learning how to share.”[2] Aren’t those powerful strengths that we should identify and cultivate in our supportive role of helping children thrive as adults?

When children engage in play, they naturally show how they lead, how they empathize with others, and how they work with others (or not) to solve problems. If you spend time being present with your children during play, you will be able to see how your child’s strengths manifest in the simplest of activities. Seeing your children play allows you to see how they make mistakes, too, which is a powerful indicator of their sense of self.

Allow (Supported) Mistakes—and Often!

Identifying your child’s strengths has nothing to do with demanding them to be perfect. Far from it, actually. Remember—you are guiding them to becoming a self-sufficient and nurturing adult, and there aren’t many of us out there that are perfect!

Highlighting moments when your child has made some mistakes and working through how to bounce back or fix that mistake can be wondrous when they are working towards understanding their effect on others, themselves, and the world.

Just like parents that tend to focus too much on the negative, children too often learn more from their mistakes than their successes. Catch your child softly during a mistake, and work through a plan to get themselves out of it. Your goal is not to fix their issue, of course, but to build within them the capacity to make a better choice next time.

When you take on this mindset of an engaging and present parent that is looking for ways to build your child’s strengths, you’ll be surprised at what you see them able to do.

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Some solid examples of inherent child strengths to look for include:

These are the soft skills that are being developed as young as preschool and even before. In today’s global workplace environment, ensuring that your child is developing in these (and other) areas will set them up for success.

Okay, great. You’ve watched your children at the park or tag along with your teenager to a volunteer event and notice how gracious they are. How do we keep that going?

As is normally the case, you’ll see that cultivating strengths is no more difficult than identifying them.

Cultivating Your Child’s Identified Strengths

Imagine this scenario: Thursday evening, and you’ve worked your fourth ten-hour day. Your partner is late getting home from work, and your three kids are all wanting different things for dinner that should have been made yesterday.

At the exact moment you’re about to snap from the pressure, your middle child says, “Hey, maybe we can all act like chefs tonight and make our own dinners? Might be fun!”

Um, yes, please?

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As you settle in bed later that evening and reflect on that exchange in the kitchen, you start to highlight other times that child—and, as you doze, your other children in their own ways—stepping up and leading. You know this cannot be by accident, so what’s going on here?

Provide Many At-Bats

Just because a child can take their plate to the sink doesn’t mean they are responsible enough with Grandma’s China set. But when you provide the “at-bats” for children to build capacity using their strengths, you see the road to them handling more difficult scenarios becoming less and less cluttered with obstacles.

There will come a day, and perhaps soon, that your child will be able to navigate that China with extreme grace. Today just ain’t that day, but with some work, it’ll come!

Providing opportunities for your child to build on their strengths is a great idea. Everyone likes to feel competent, and your child is no different! Setting up scaffolded opportunities for them to showcase their budding personalities decreases the stress and increases the chance that, next time, they will perform even better.

Teach Them to Trust but Verify

Good leaders don’t have all the answers. Neither should you and of course, we don’t expect our children to know everything. But we should build within them the capacity for understanding what they don’t know and figuring out ways to get the information they need to work through their situations.

You cannot always have the answers, either. So, what should you do?

Exposing them to the world of information that exists is a good start. Great, you’ve identified your child is empathetic, but must they assist and provide supportive care to everyone they encounter? Or should there be some healthy boundaries established?

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Working with your children to mold and curate these more nuanced approaches to their strengths will provide them with a good road map to use when they ultimately leave you and lead their own lives.

Turning Weaknesses Into Opportunities

While not exactly the elephant in the room, I can’t possibly write an article about child strengths without also addressing the fact that our children aren’t possibly capable of being good at everything.

Perhaps one of your most important roles as a parent is to decide what strengths your child has and to inspire them to cultivate those strengths using the tips and suggestions in this article. However, there will be a wide variety of opportunities for you to work through the challenges your child experiences.

I don’t want this to sound too harsh but the fact is, everyone has competencies on a spectrum: you can work, hustle, and grind to develop parts of your personality or skill set to whatever gain you set for yourself. Allowing children to operate with a mindset of progress, not perfection, will help their journey. You cannot be weak, after all, if you are constantly striving for improvement.

So, the next time you take your kiddo out to the park, attend a professional sporting event, or perhaps when you’re playing cards in the living room on a cold winter night, pay attention to how they maneuver around.

How are they asking for what they need? How are they offering support? How are they handling conflict? How are they bouncing back from missed opportunities or mess-ups?

In each of those moments—and many more—the opportunity to cultivate strength in your child is just around the corner!

More Tips on Developing Your Child’s Strengths

Featured photo credit: Nathan Dumlao via unsplash.com

Reference

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