Be a Buddy, Not a Bully
By: Catherine Wagoner
Did you know that October is National Bullying Prevention Month also known as Bullying Awareness Month? While we want to protect our children and students, some students still experience bullying as part of their educational journeys. Bullying comes in different shapes and forms, but there are defining features of bullying including repeated aggressive and intentional behavior that involves an imbalance of strength or power (stopbullying.gov, online). In addition to a wide range of behaviors, bullying can be physical, emotional, social, verbal, social, or cyber.
How can bullying affect my child? Children that are bullied can suffer from serious emotional and physical consequences. Children who are bullied are more likely than other children to be depressed, feel lonely, and have anxiety. They may have low self-esteem and struggle with self-confidence. Children that have been bullied often feel sick, which results in increased absences from school.
What if my child does not tell me? Are there warning signs? It can be hard to know that bullying is happening unless your child has visible signs such as bruises or injuries. Often, children won’t open up about bullying because they are embarrassed, ashamed, scared of the child/children doing the bullying, or don’t want to be viewed as the “tattler.” However, there are warning signs that parents might notice such as changes in eating and sleeping habits, increases in anxious behaviors, loss of interest or engagement in previously enjoyed activities, feelings of down or moody, and avoiding situations.
If my child is being bullied, what do I do? Bullying is complicated, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, here are a a few key points to support you and your child:
Concentrate on your child. Collect information about the events. Be supportive. Avoid the urge to tell your child to ignore the bullying behavior. Frequently, minimizing bullying can allow it to become more serious. Be sure to listen closely to the details your child is relaying about the bullying behaviors that are taking place. As they share, continue to gather additional information about the bullying such as when and where the bullying took place, who was involved, and who saw it. Do not blame your child or assume your child did something to encourage the bullying because it is important to empathize with your child. While easier said than done, be sure to monitor your own emotions as a parent’s protective instincts can provoke even more intense reactions. Although it is challenging, it is wise to step back and take into consideration your next actions carefully.
Connect with your child’s teacher or administration. Parents and guardians are often hesitant to report bullying to schools; however, bullying most likely will not end without the assistance of adults. When you do reach out, prepare to stay regulated in your emotions and feelings. To the best of your ability, communicate details about the bullying experience. Ideally, offer partnering with the school to achieve a creative solution to end the bullying for the sake of all the students. During and after partnering, continue to talk with the school staff and administration to determine whether the bullying has stopped. Contact the school leadership if the bullying continues again.
Assist your child in becoming more resistant to bullying. As a compliment to concentrating and validating your child’s experience, you can also partner with your child to build talents or positive characteristics that will accelerate confidence among friends and peer groups like opportunities to participate in music, arts, clubs, or sports. Encourage your child to make relationships and friendships with welcoming peers, and when in doubt, contact the teacher to see if there are any suggestions of students to contact. Additionally, promote ways to meet new friends outside of the school. Children that have been bullied in one setting can gain from making friends in a new and different environment. As your child builds their social connections, discuss and practice safety strategies for when feeling threatened by a bully. First, determine why your child is being bullied. Is it because of a learning disability, absence of social or emotional skills, or maybe even a strength? This may help explain why your child is being treated this way, and you may want to consider seeking help from a counselor for severe or extreme impacts.
Throughout all phases of a bullying experience, continue to communicate with your child and maintain a loving, safe, and supportive home environment. For additional resources, check out the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s stopbullying.gov campaign. Let’s work together to raise bullying awareness!
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