Another school year is officially under way and for most it is an enjoyable and exciting time. But unfortunately the sad reality for some is that a new school year brings feelings of anxiety and apprehension with children fearing for their safety on a daily basis. Bullying has become a hot topic for discussion nationwide as many stories of the effects of severe depression and young people taking their lives because their self-worth has been diminished. So, what should you do? Follow these five tips to deal with bullying involving your children:
1) Recognize It – One of the first steps in handling bullying in children is to recognize it when it is happening. Children who are being bullied often feel ashamed and alone and won’t necessarily speak out about their experiences. So it’s very important to know the signs of a bullied child in order to alleviate a potential bullying situation. There are three types of bullying; verbal, physical, and relationship bullying (excluding a child from other friendships and activities). According to stopbullying.gov, children who are bullied may show one or a combination of any of the following signs: declining schoolwork, withdrawal from friends and activities, nightmares, physical complaints, and/or a change in attitude – stressed, worried, more anxious than normal. Remember, not all incidents between children are considered bullying. However any incident that occurs and makes a child fearful for their well-being or causes them emotional suffering, should be handled immediately.
2) Talk About It – If you suspect that your child has been involved in a bullying incident, it is wise open a line of communication. Many times the child who is bullying is feeling insecure about themselves or going through their own physical or emotional trauma. In some situations, though not all, bullying can be a sign of a larger problem going on at home such as mental illness or domestic abuse. Since both positive and negative behaviors are learned from a child’s primary caregiver, the child may be witnessing negative behaviors being exhibited in the home. In most cases however; bullying is a part of the growing process for a child as they learn self-control and social skills.
3) Report It – May times bullying incidents can be handled through open positive conversations between the children and parents. However if a child has been the victim of ongoing verbal or physical abuse or if the child feels that their life is threatened, the incident should be reported to an authority immediately. In some cases that will involve contacting school administration or a local school board or if the incident occurred off of school property could even mean contacting the local police. Regardless, be aware of your school district’s policies and procedures regarding handling bullying. In addition, be sure to find help and support for the bullied child whether that means contacting a school counselor or enrolling them in a support group for bullied children. It can be helpful for children to share their experiences with others who can relate to their feelings and in turn redevelop their social confidence. However each child is different and what works for one may not work for the other. The idea is to let them know they are not alone and that they are care for – no matter what their bully may say. This alone could make the difference between a child who goes on to flourish after their incident(s) or a child who further isolates themselves and attempts to deal with their emotions with drugs and in worst case scenarios, suicide.
4) Teach It – In most cases, childhood bullying is an opportunity to teach our children empathy, compassion, and respect. The most effective way to teach this is through leading by example. Let your children see you show compassion to a homeless person or help a community member that is down on their luck. In addition, expose them to diversity and teach them about other cultures and races. Help them to see that it is important to treat people with kindness and respect. Encourage them to see the value in all human life not just those of a certain stature or level of power. Teach them that violence does not solve problems and that their words will always have a much larger impact on any situation over their fists. Basically give them the tools they need to work through the situation. Volunteering in the community is one great way to teach your children about compassion and empathy. Help out at a local animal shelter such as The Human Society in Reisterstown or try a local community center.
Teach your children that they are special and that their lives are as valuable and beautiful as any other human on the planet. Children whose self-confidence and worth are constantly being praised are less likely to suffer long term effects of bullying. And are in fact more likely to help prevent it!