Your child reporting that he or she is being bullied can be very upsetting. According to the Center for Disease Control, 19% of kids are victims of bulling on school grounds. Bullying can include physical and/or verbal confrontation, social exclusion and spreading harsh rumors; it can also occur through electronic and online technologies. Available evidence suggests that those who experience a pattern of being bullied experience significant mental health challenges (the same is often true among those who engage in a pattern of bullying). Among the children who are bullied low self-esteem and under socialization are common. In the animal kingdom predators prey on vulnerable members of the herd who can be found on the fringes or in isolation. This is often the case for children who are repeatedly bullied as well. If your child is experiencing a pattern of being bullied, or if any incidents of bullying are causing him or her distress, consider the following:
- Get expert assistance. An evaluation by a well qualified child mental health professional is usually a good idea, even if you are able to get the bullying to stop by other means. It is much better to understand any contributing problems, and to develop a plan for managing or fixing them, than it is to let a child or teen languish. To find a qualified professional near you click here.
- Consult with the school about the bullying. I’ve never met a teacher or school administrator who is willing to tolerate bullying. It is ideal to have this consultation with a child mental health professional at your side. The consultation can be used to reach a clear understanding about what has happened and to develop a plan for fixing things.
- Encourage your child or teen to travel with at least one friend as she or he travels from one location to another at school. As I implied above, bullying is much more likely to occur when a child or teen iis traveling solo. This step might involve inviting prospective friends over to your house in order to develop or to create friendships. If your child or teen cannot, or will not, name friend candidates her or his teacher(s) may be willing to do so.
- If your child or teen is a victim of cyber bullying consider first whether his or her online life is adaptive (please see my blog entries that cover monitoring online activity and internet addiction to help in this determination).
- If you know the parents of the alleged bully, and you have no clear reason to believe that they would be hostile, consider arranging to have them over to your home to discuss what everyone can to do garner wellness and peace. (In many instances it may be better to do #1 before this one so that a qualified mental health professional can help you to think through the issues, including how you want to manage the meeting.)
- If your child has not discovered things that he or she is good at, or does not have regular access to activities that put such talents on display, I would make changing this a top priority. Please see Chapter Two of my book Working Parents, Thriving Families, to read about specific strategies for pulling this off.
Here also are three strategies that often are not advisable. Keep in mind that even a broken clock is right twice a day. So, just about any strategy has some chance of working. But, I am suggesting that the odds of the following working, independent of significant negative side effects, are probably low:
- Encouraging a child to be physically aggressive. Yes, there is reason to believe that assaulting a bully might cause him or her to retreat. But this teaches all sorts of unsavory lessons, risks school disciplinary action and can be excruciatingly difficulty for a child or teen to pull off.
- Succumbing to your child’s or teen’s plea for you to do nothing. If your child told you that mold was growing in his or her locker at school and you could tell that this was making him or her sick, would you adhere to his or her begging to not take action? Keep in mind that any number of different kinds of action may be in order (see above). What I believe is generally more advisable is to find out what your child or teen reasonably fears could happen if you initiated a plan for fixing the problem (e.g., retaliation by the bully, someone finding out that he or she is in counseling). You might then take steps to make the odds of such happening remote. (A consultation with a mental health professional is especially advisable if your child is insistent along these lines.)
- To view the problem as completely resolved if the only change the occurs is that a pattern of bullying stops. I think it is very important to a child’s or teen’s wellness to take steps to understand and to resolve the underlying issues that caused such a painful cycle to begin.