Bullying: Help your child handle a bully

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Bullying: Help your child handle a bully

Bullying was once considered a childhood rite of passage. Today, however, bullying is recognized as a serious problem. To help your child handle bullying, learn to recognize it — and understand how to respond.

Types of bullying

Bullying is a form of aggression, in which one or more children repeatedly and intentionally intimidate, harass or harm a victim who is perceived as unable to defend him- or herself. Bullying can take many forms. For example:

  • Physical. This type of bullying includes hitting, tripping and kicking, as well as destruction of a child's property.
  • Verbal. Verbal bullying includes teasing, name-calling, taunting and making inappropriate sexual comments.
  • Psychological or social. This type of bullying involves spreading rumors about a child, embarrassing him or her in public, or excluding him or her from a group.
  • Electronic. Cyberbullying involves using an electronic medium, such as email, websites, a social media platform, text messages, or videos posted on websites or sent through phones, to threaten or harm others.

The consequences of bullying

Being bullied as a child has been linked to:

  • Mental health problems. Children who are bullied are at increased risk of depression, anxiety, sleep problems, low self-esteem, and thoughts of self-harm and suicide.
  • Impaired academic performance. Children who are bullied might be afraid to go to school and are more likely to get poor grades. Targets of bullying are also more likely to receive school detention or suspension, miss, skip or drop out of school.
  • Substance abuse. Children who are bullied are more likely to use alcohol and other drugs.
  • Violence. Children who are bullied might be more likely to carry weapons at school. A small number of children who are bullied might retaliate with violent measures.

Warning signs of bullying

If your child is being bullied, he or she might remain quiet out of fear, shame or embarrassment. Be on the lookout for these warning signs:

  • Lost or destroyed clothing, electronics or other personal belongings
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
  • Poor school performance or reluctance to go to school
  • Headaches, stomachaches or other physical complaints
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Distress after spending time online or on his or her phone
  • Feelings of helplessness or low self-esteem
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as running away from home

What to do if your child is being bullied

If you suspect that your child is being bullied, take the situation seriously:

  • Encourage your child to share his or her concerns. Remain calm, listen in a loving manner and support your child's feelings. Express understanding and concern. Remind your child that he or she isn't to blame for being bullied.
  • Learn about the situation. Ask your child to describe how and when the bullying occurs and who is involved. Find out what your child has done to try to stop the bullying, as well as what has or hasn't worked. Ask what can be done to help him or her feel safe.
  • Teach your child how to respond. Don't promote retaliation or fighting back against a bully. Instead, your child might try telling the bully to leave him or her alone, walking away to avoid the bully, ignoring the bully, or asking a teacher, coach or other adult for help. Suggest sticking with friends wherever the bullying seems to happen. Likewise, tell your child not to respond to cyberbullying. If possible, use software to block the cyberbully.
  • Talk to your child about technology. Make sure you know how your child is using the Internet, social media platforms, or his or her phone to interact with others. If your child is being cyberbullied, don't automatically take away electronic privileges. Children might be reluctant to report bullying for fear of having their cellphone or Internet privileges taken away. Your actions could prevent your child from telling you about a future incident.
  • Boost your child's self-confidence. Encourage your child to build friendships and get involved in activities that emphasize his or her strengths and talents.

Responding to bullying

If your child admits being bullied, take action. For example:

  • Record the details. Write down the details — the date, who was involved and what specifically happened. Save screenshots, emails and texts. Record the facts as objectively as possible.
  • Contact appropriate authorities. Seek help from your child's principal, teacher or the school guidance counselor. Report cyberbullying to Web and cellphone service providers or websites. If your child has been physically attacked or otherwise threatened with harm, talk to school officials and call the police.
  • Explain your concerns in a matter-of-fact way. Instead of laying blame, ask for help to solve the bullying problem. Keep notes on these meetings. Keep in contact with school officials. If the bullying continues, be persistent.
  • Ask for a copy of the school's policy on bullying. Find out how bullying is addressed in the school's curriculum, as well as how staff members are obligated to respond to known or suspected bullying.

If your child has been injured or traumatized by continued bullying consult a mental health provider. You might also consider talking to an attorney. Taking legal action to disrupt a culture of bullying can make your community safer for all children.

Last Updated: 2013-08-23
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