Helping Your Young Child Deal with Bullying
Consequences of Bullying
Taking steps to quickly end bullying is very important for the mental health of the victim. Studies have shown that the stresses of being bullied can interfere with a student’s learning, cause depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, loneliness, and ill feelings. Children who are bullied may fear going to school, using the bathroom, or riding the school bus. It is very important for parents to be supportive of their child, listen carefully to what the child has to say, empathize with their child and refrain from criticizing the way he or she handled the aggression. If a child shows persistent signs of depression such as sleep or appetite changes, lack of interest in activities, crying, sad mood, or thoughts of hurting themselves, seek help from a licensed pediatric mental health specialist such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Bullying also impacts students at the school who are not directly involved in the aggression. It creates a climate of fear and disrespect in schools and has an overall negative impact on learning. For this reason, most schools now have anti-bullying policies in place to protect all students.
What Parents Can Do to Help a Child Fight Back Against Peer Aggression
Susan Kohl, preschool director and author of the new book, The Best Things Parents Do, addresses how parents can help children deal with aggression in a segment of her book. Ms. Kohl states, “It’s an important subject because kids will always have to cope with this challenge in their lives.” Ms. Kohl’s suggestions include:
- For a sensitive or quiet child, point out the times she is assertive with other children by saying things like, “I see you told Tommy to give your toy back and I’m proud of you.”
- Avoid pressuring children or questioning their ability to stick up for themselves. Being aware that we get frustrated because we don’t want them to get help can help us focus on the child’s feelings.
- Role-play with a child about how to confront someone who’s bullying him or her. Let her play the bully and you play the potential victim who learns to assert herself.
- Teach child come-backs to use when teased and practice his ability to use words to defend himself. At first he’ll have to talk loudly to deter aggression from others.
- Avoid calling the parent and complaining of the aggressive child or talking about them to other parents. Children are born with different temperaments and characterizing a child as hurtful will make most parents defensive.
- Talk to a teacher or playground supervisor about specific instances of aggression. Sometimes places aren’t staffed adequately.
Strengthening your overall relationship with your child and providing a loving, violence-free home atmosphere for your children will go a long way in protecting your child from the effects of peer aggression from bullies at school. Dr. Gilda Carle, therapist and professor of psychology and communications at Mercy College in New York, states that parents can use general strategies to help children ward off bullying. First of all, she says, “Let them know it [bullying] is not okay.” Dr. Carle shares the following ways to encourage your children to notify you of incidents with bullies: “Let them know to come to you when a situation becomes too difficult. Let them know that bullying will not be tolerated and that there will be punishment to pay. Most importantly, teach them and show them the need for respect in every relationship they are in.” Once an acute situation with an aggressor is resolved, it is helpful for the child to learn ways to minimize the chances of being victimized again. Dr. Carle says “To bully-proof your child, you must get him to feel good about himself, project that confidence in his body language, voice and words and deal with his fears.” Arming your child with tools of resistance and resilience combined with the availability of loving and open communication between parent and child will go a long way towards minimizing the impact that bullies have in our schools today.
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