If you are a parent who suspects your child is being bullied and you want to find that silver bullet to make it stop, then you may have a rough time looking for it. We’re not saying the problem can’t be solved, because it definitely can. But, it will take a little time and effort from everyone involved. This includes you, your child and the school.
Lisa is 14 years old and she goes to a small school close to home. Every day, a group of girls whisper nasty things about her and laugh when she walks past. They have also started horrible rumours about her and spread them on social media. Everyone at school has seen them now. At this point, Lisa feels like she has no place to get away from the abuse. Even when she's at home, she can still see the nasty comments when she goes online.
Her mom knows that her child is being bullied, but she just tells Lisa to keep ignoring the nasty comments and to be strong. The problem is that the only two worlds Lisa knows are school and home. And now, she doesn’t feel understood no matter where she goes. No place is safe to be happy.
One day, Lisa decided to start bunking school. She was desperate to get away from the bullying as it seemed impossible to solve. Of course, it wasn't long before her mother found out that she was missing school and got quite angry. She quickly grounded Lisa as she felt it was the most practical way to control her child's whereabouts. There was only one problem with this plan. Lisa didn't feel heard when she tried to explain herself. This left her lost all hope that her mom would ever understand her pain.
The start of conflict
This is just the beginning of a whole range of social and emotional problems Lisa will probably face growing up. The more she feels she cannot trust her parents (as she thinks to herself: who would just stand by as their child is being bullied and do nothing about it?), the more she internalises the situation and stops opening up.
What’s sad is that she felt as though she was reaching out to her mom in the beginning. And at the same time, her mom thought she was doing the best for her child by disciplining her.
You may have already tried talking to your child about the situation with little luck. And that’s absolutely normal! If you see deflective behaviour, then chances are your child is feeling traumatised, embarrassed or scared by the fact that they’re being bullied and are trying to prevent it from escalating or being handled badly.
Dealing with bullying effectively means proper communication needs to be established. And that will only come once you’ve built mutual awareness and trust about the problem. Someone like Lisa is not in an unsolvable situation. She and her mother just need to work on a suitable approach to the situation.
My child is being bullied. What can I do to help?
Finding a realistic solution when your child is being bullied can be fairly straightforward, as much as it can also be quite challenging. It really depends on how you choose to approach the situation. The control needed to resolve these issues effectively is in your hands as a parent. So it’s best to do your research before acting on impulse.
If your child is being bullied and you’re ready to resolve the issue, ask yourself these three questions:
1. Do I acknowledge that bullying is a serious problem?
Bullies have been around for ages. You meet them on the playground and you meet them in the office. But being bullied as a child is far worse, as childhood experiences largely shape and wire our brains to be what they are as adults. In other words, good childhood experiences help shape a healthy brain. And traumatic childhood experiences can hurt your brain and put you at a much higher risk of developing mental health issues.
Bullying is a typical adverse childhood experience (ACE). And the more ACEs you experience, the more likely it is that you’ll develop problems such as depression, anxiety, social withdrawal and, in the worst case, suicidal tendencies.
The second thing that you need to consider is that what your child considers to be traumatic is relevant to their lives at that point. You shouldn’t be too quick to disregard their issue if you don’t initially understand why they’re so upset. Children have different issues, challenges, and living criteria to adults. The problems we find insignificant could actually feel all-absorbing and unescapable for a kid. Listen first. Then use your initiative to decide whether your child is truly traumatised or is simply acting up.
2. I know my child is being bullied. How will this affect their behaviour?
There are a variety of reasons why kids bully other kids and how bullying affects children in school, but that’s a different subject altogether. What’s important to look at here is why your child has been successfully made a target. Some of the most common issues include:
Physical appearance. Some children will pick on others that are smaller, weaker or have a different appearance to the norm.
Character. Some kids are seen as easy targets because they’re quite shy or introverted and struggle to stand up for themselves.
Prejudice and preconceptions. It’s easy to criticise what you’re not familiar with and many kids fall into this habit. Especially when it comes someone else’s culture, religion, family background or even a disability.
Once you have a grasp on what the root cause of the bullying may be, you’ll be able to better understand how it’s affecting your child’s behaviour.
Each one of us reacts differently when we’re put in a situation that makes us feel out of control. Whether it’s by lashing out, choosing to retract from daily life, or even turning to substance abuse – the emotional outlets are endless and they shouldn't be acknowledged for being anything else but exactly that. Some prominent ones to look out for include increasingly worse social withdrawal, loneliness and low self-confidence.
3. When is it a good time to intervene now that you know your child is being bullied?
Before trying to resolve the issue by addressing the bully, it’s worth focusing on your own child and what they can do to ethically protect themselves. There will always be bullies in life. So, a valuable understanding of how to manage them in the future is far more practical than continuously trying to run away from them.
Once you’ve got a good handle and enough background information on the situation, you need to build some mutual trust with your child. Any intervention you try will not work if your child doesn’t feel safe. This is because it’s not just the bullying you need to put a stop to - you will have to work through any emotional damage that’s already been done as well.
Be patient with yourself
Day-to-day interactions are the best way to start building trust with your child – whether it’s by chatting around the dinner table, walking the dog together or helping out with a school assignment. Your relationship can solidify a lot as you spend time getting to know how your child thinks.
If you’re trying to bring about the topic of bullying sensitively, it could be worth using slightly roundabout techniques to make it feel more instinctive. Say you decide to watch a movie together where you know bullying plays a role in the storyline, you can casually make a comment about a particular scene and get a conversation going. You can ask them how they feel about it and what they suggest the intervention should be. A situation like this can make the dialogue come about more naturally about what you both think the solution to being bullied would be.
Simple practical activities like these is why we have created the free Bully Awareness course that helps parents approach the subject of bullying in a creative and non-threatening way. If you have not yet completed this free course, click on the button below and enrol now.
Poole, J, Dobson, K & Pusch, D 2018, "Do adverse childhood experiences predict adult interpersonal difficulties? The role of emotion dysregulation", Child Abuse & Neglect, Vol.80, pp 123-133.
Leiner, M, Dwivedi, A, Villanos, M, Singh, N, Blunk, D & Peinado, J 2014, "Psychosocial profile of bullies, victims and bully-victims: a cross-sectional study", Frontiers in Pediatrics, Vol.2, pp 1.