How to help your child handle bullying: A proven guide for Parents

How to help your child handle bullying

Bullying comes in different forms, it can be physical (beating, pushing, punching), it can be verbal (threats, abuse, making fun of), it can also be psychological (making you feel you are not good enough, spreading false rumors, or social exclusion). However it presents itself, Bullying is a terrible experience for any child to have to go through.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where serious issues like bullying are being looked over and adults assume that the child being bullied will get over it or the one bullying will soon stop. This inconsideration on the part of adults, to see bullying and not stop it has led to many traumatic experiences growing up with children which sometimes leads to suicide.

How to spot bullying: the difference

Bullying is different from conflict or disagreement between children. Let's take a look at a few definitions:

Bullying is a pattern of behavior, rather than an isolated incident. Children who bully usually come from a perceived higher social status or position of power, such as children who are bigger, stronger or perceived to be popular. (https://www.unicef.org/end-violence)

Bullying is the use of force, coercion, hurtful teasing or threat, to abuse, aggressively dominate or intimidate. The behavior is often repeated and habitual. One essential prerequisite is the perception (by the bully or by others) of an imbalance of physical or social power. (Wikipedia)

Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words, or more subtle actions. (American Psychological Association)

From these definitions, You can usually identify bullying through the following three characteristics:

  1. intent,
  2. repetition, and
  3. power.

That is, it is aggressive behavior that (a) is intended to cause distress or harm, (b) involves an imbalance of power or strength between the aggressor and the victim, and (c) commonly occurs repeatedly over time (Limber, 2002; Olweus, 1993a; Nansel et al., 2001);

Who is at fault?

When bullying escalates and becomes a matter of life or death, often people who know absolutely nothing of the history blame the parent of the child that was bullied, as though, it was their fault that the child was bullied or that the bully escalated to that degree. I will agree though that sometimes these opinions are said out of concern for parents to be more proactive and observant in raising children, however, I will say that blaming, pointing fingers, and name-calling will not help to ease the heartbreaking experience of a parent’s awareness of the bullying itself.

Another unfortunate scenario is that people blame the victim. They might ask a question like “what do you do to cause it?” Again, while it is true that there are some things that can help deter bullying, like developing social skills and building self-esteem, the truth is that anyone can become a victim of bullying. 1 (Guy A, Lee K, Wolke D. Comparisons Between Adolescent Bullies, Victims, and Bully-Victims on Perceived Popularity, Social Impact, and Social Preference.)

When people blame the victim, they, unfortunately, make the mistaken notion that the victims had a flawed behavior, (too weak, too vulnerable, too shy, too sensitive) and as such need to change in order for the bully to stop. This is false and research has proven that in many cases, those being bullied may not have done anything to deserve it. We have several cases of bully due to a certain disability or the color of the skin or the shape of the body, in all these cases, it is never about a behavior.

Some people also tend to underestimate the power and influence that students who bully hold, both over their targets and the witnesses to their bullying. Those who bully will assert that they were only “kidding around” and that the target of the bullying took it too seriously or was actually to blame for the behavior. Bystanders will often substantiate the bully’s account and the intimidated target may even back the bully’s fabrications. (https://www.safeatschool.ca/plm)

Let’s talk about the bully and the parent of the bully. As you will expect, it is very controversial and there are many thoughts on whether the parent of the bully should be blamed or not. While I cannot say whether parents of the bully should be blamed or not, I will say this though, that parenting and parent interactions are largely a factor to be considered.

Parents of younger children are authority figures meaning that with the right interactions, (positive parenting), children will grow being kind, considerate, and respecting other people's feelings.

On the other hand, parents of older teenagers are influencers, meaning to a large degree, your interactions still affect your child’s behaviors even though they make their own decisions.

As a result of this, we cannot 100% rule out the roles of parents to stop, handle control, or greatly minimize bullying tendencies in their children, no we cannot rule it out. That being said, a lot of focus should also be on the child’s behavior as well.

That being said, a lot of focus should also be on the child’s behavior as well. When a child bully’s another child, amongst other reasons, it’s also because there’s an underlying issue that needs to be fixed; an underlying trauma, or an inappropriate exposure. Until these issues are resolved for the child or individual as the case may be, there will be bullying down the line.

What causes bully?

The truth is there is no single reason which explains why bullying happens. Anyone is at risk for bullying, whether children or adults. However, some of the causes can be categorized into the following:

  • Being previously bullied: Children who bully often lack the capacity to empathize with those being bullied because they themselves have been bullied before, either from parents, step-siblings, or neighborhood.
  • Certain cultures or environment can cause bullying to thrive because there are either no policies against such behaviours or the adults trivialize the experience.
  • Violent games or movies can increase aggression: In 2015, the American Psychological Association released a statement that said there is a clear link between aggression and video game violence. This was based on a task force’s review of research conducted between 2005 and 2013.
  • It can be the result of poor upbringing in cases where parents encourage bullying, bully other people or don't teach their children to be kind and sensitive about other people's feelings.
  • Seeking social attention via loneliness: Children who bully sometimes do this because they are lonely or do not receive love and attention from home. So they find attention any way they can, often by bullying others and causing misbehaviours.
  • Frustration or envy: Expression of anger or frustration due to problems at home or at school is often a common cause of Bully. Bullies may also be envious of other people’s skills, grades or status.

How to Deal With Bullies: A Guide for Parents

How to help your child with bullying?

The impact of bullying is huge. It can cause unhappiness, distress and even result in suicide. It can spiral into a number of physical or mental health problems. People who were bullied as children can suffer the effect right into adulthood and even worse, the rest of their lives.

We’re assuming here that your child has already told you about the bullying which is a great start. If you suspect your child is being bullied but isn't talking, encourage them to speak up because that is where the resolution starts from. "Typical bullying symptoms include physical complaints such as tummy aches, as well as worries and fears, and a child not wanting to go to school," says Steven Pastyrnak, Ph.D., the Division Chief of Psychology at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, MI. "A normal defense is to avoid or withdraw from things that are making her stressed." So, watch out for sudden changes in behavior or frequent complaint of physical distress.

  • Educate your children about bullying and teach them how to identify it whether it is happening to them to someone else.
  • Talk frequently with your children and ask questions. Ask not only about how they are doing but also how they are feeling. Frequent and open communication will encourage them to be comfortable talking with you and telling you your experiences.
  • Help your child be a positive role model by being inclusive, respectful and kind to their peers. If they witness bullying, they can stick up for the victim, offer support, and/or question bullying behaviours.
  • Help build your child’s self confidence. Encourage your child to participate in activities they love, gain new friends and help them build confidence but not talking down at them.
  • Teach your child how to respond to bullying and appropriate steps to immediately take. For example, you can teach your child to say "please leave me alone" and walk away to report to someone of authority.
  • Be part of their online experience. Familiarize yourself with the social platforms your child uses, let them know the risk of using the online world. Teach them how to post safe content online to reduce or eliminate cyberbullying.

When to take action with bullying

Bullying should never be taken lightly. I can’t recount the number of parents who come to therapy recounting guilt that they did nothing when their sons or daughter spoke up about being bullied. Usually, this begins when something drastic happens like suicide. Because of how serious the effect of a bully can be, parents need to be empowered to protect their children.

First, I recommend parents find out what is happening and where it is happening.

Find out the difference between bully and conflict, so that when you do bring up the matter before authorized persons, you do not stutter but can appropriately name what is happening to your child

Next, speak to someone else about it. This someone else should be someone who has the capacity to change the bullying. Either the school authorities if the bullying takes place in school or the parents of the bully if they are people you know in the neighborhood.

Take your child to therapy. Don’t underestimate the effect of bullying, don’t trivialize it. If your child won't talk to you about their feelings, take them someplace where they can talk and get help.

If the bullying persists, change the environment. This is usually the last resort but can be necessary when the need causes it. Helping your child overcome the bullying is more important than changing the school or wherever the bullying occurs. But when it becomes life-threatening and overwhelmingly suppressing, please go ahead and change the environment and seek continued therapy.

Eventually, exactly when to intervene is at the discretion of the parents but this should be early enough to avoid any complications further.

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