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Bullying can take a big emotional and physical toll on children. Children who are bullied often experience headaches, sleeping problems, stomach pain, loss of appetite, bed-wetting, depression, anxiety, weight loss or gain, declining grades, and thoughts of suicide.
Problems can also persist into adulthood. Studies show that children who were bullied have a harder time finding a job and building strong social relationships as adults. They are also more like to suffer from a psychiatric disorder or have other health problems.
Unfortunately, bullying is pretty common in our schools. According to a 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, 20% of students in grades 9–12 experienced bullying in the United States. For children with an autism spectrum disorder or with a food allergy, the percentage is even higher. Also at a higher risk are children who are seen as weaker, who have self-esteem issues, who have fewer friends, or who are seen as different.
As parents, school staff, and medical professionals become more aware of bullying and its effects, we are learning more about ways to prevent bullying. One important step is teaching your child how to avoid becoming a target and how to stick up for others. Here are some things you can do to help bully-proof your child.
Teach your Child How to Identify Bullying
Talk to your children about bullying and what it looks like. Children who know what bullying is will be better able to identify it and to know how to react.
Bullying is when somebody uses a real or perceived imbalance of power (either social or physical) to control or hurt others. The behavior is usually repetitive. Most often it takes the form of physical attacks, threats, verbal abuse, social exclusion, cyber bullying, and spreading rumors.
Talk to your children and help them understand the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Try asking them questions like:
Communicate With Your Child
The earlier bullying is addressed the better. If you know that bullying is occurring either to your child or another, you can take steps to solve the problem. But if your child doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you or is embarrassed by the situation, you may never know what is going on.
Having other family members talk about experiences they have had with bullying may help open up the conversation. If your child does tell you about being bullied, provide a safe environment where your child can feel your unconditional love.
Resist the urge to confront the bully’s parents yourself. If you do talk to the bully’s parents, do it in a setting where somebody else can mediate.
Many children are afraid to talk to their parents because they don’t want to be called a tattle-tale. Let your children know that you will always be careful to address the situation in a way that the bully will never learn how others found out.
It also helps to stay in tune with what is happening in your child’s life. You can do this by reading school flyers, volunteering at school, going to school events, and getting to know your child’s friends and their families.
Be a Good Example
Children will learn how to interact with others by watching you. Treat others with kindness and respect. Show your children how to resolve conflicts and model confident behavior.
Teach Your Child Social Skills
Encourage your child to develop a strong group of friends. Peer intervention is one of the best ways to prevent bullying. Children who are alone and have few friends are more likely to be bullied.
By practicing social skills at home, including how to introduce yourself and how to initiate play, you will help your child build more friendships.
Teach Your Child How to Avoid Bullies
Bullies are more likely to pick on kids who are alone. Teach your children to stick with groups of kids or to areas that are supervised by adults. Have them avoid going to the bathroom alone or walking home by themselves.
Teach Your Child How to Respond to Bullies
Bullies are looking for people who they can intimidate. Children who are able to stay calm and indifferent are more likely to fall off a bully’s radar. It is important for them not to get upset or angry. By walking away confidently and ignoring the bully, you show that you don’t care.
Teaching your child to fight back can be dangerous. You never know how a bully will respond and it can trigger more violence.
Help Your Child Build a Sense of Self
When your child is involved in activities that he or she loves it helps to build confidence and a boarder sense of self. When we are good at something, we feel strong and confident.
It is also a good chance for children to develop a wider social circle. That way if they are having problems in one area, they have another social circle they can turn to for support.