By Dr. Poonam Khanna, D.O./Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
Bullies make their targets feel powerless and worthless. And that makes it difficult for children to admit when they’re being bullied. Often, involving adults is considered being a tattletale by children, so your child might be hesitant to tell you if he or she is being bullied.
As a parent, you probably can sense when something is wrong with your child. Answering the question “Is it something, or is it nothing?” is extremely difficult, as you don’t want to break your child’s trust or openness with you. But it’s always best to investigate if you suspect something is wrong. It will give you peace of mind and could prevent bullying from negatively impacting your child for the rest of his or her life.
Chances are, your child will exhibit certain common signs of bullying. Frequent headaches, stomachaches or school refusal are all signs of a problem at school.
If you discover that your child is being bullied, try creating a safe environment for him or her to talk about it. It could be while in the car, while playing quietly or during commercials on television. Anywhere your child is comfortable that doesn’t require eye contact, as that can feel like confrontation, could help him or her open up. Offer to help your child, but reassure him or her that no matter what, you will try not to make things worse.
Act out bullying situations with your child, and teach him or her some appropriate reactions to physical or emotional bullying. In no case is it smart to respond to a bully with physical aggression or insults. Instead, educate your child about doing the right thing. It could be saying, “Please leave me alone,” or simply walking away, or it could be telling an adult if the bullying is severe. The more your practice, the more natural these responses will be for your child in real-life situations.
The irony of bullying is that bullies make their targets feel worthless, and so the targets lose confidence, which is key in stopping a bully. But you can build your child’s self esteem by helping him or her recognize their positive qualities and then seeking environments that accept and support those characteristics. Even one true, healthy friendship can go a long way in stopping a bully.