How to prevent childhood bullying, and what to do if your child becomes a victim
“Bullying” is a loaded word and a complex topic. We spoke with a child psychologist to learn more.
- Equip their children before problems occur
- Know what to do when they suspect their child is being mistreated
- Reduce the chances that their own children mistreat others
By considering all three of these areas, parents and teachers reduce the likelihood that bullying or peer mistreatment will occur.
Equip your children before problems occur through open communication, problem-solving skills
There’s actually a lot parents can do to help prevent the negative effects of bullying and peer mistreatment, Dr. DeWine says. And there’s no need to wait for bullying to occur to start.
Research shows that children in families with open communication and regular time together, such as meal time, are less likely to mistreat or be mistreated by other children.
Open communication is made possible when parents set a tone of “curiosity and interest” in what their kids are dealing with day to day, Dr. DeWine continues. Children are more likely to share both the good and the bad if they feel listened to.
But if children feel the only way to get their parents’ attention is to focus on problems, then that’s what they’ll do — making it hard for parents to judge what’s serious.
When your children do share issues, you can teach and reinforce problem-solving skills so they’re better prepared to handle tough situations. Encourage your child to see the problem from other points of view. Take the extra time to ask what he or she would do and walk through the scenario together.
Then, when children do find themselves under stress without you, they will be better equipped to handle it, Dr. DeWine says.
“If a child can remain calm, think of multiple solutions to a problem and know when to ask for help, they’ll be more likely to help themselves,” he says. “The more a child is able to deal with things that are stressful, the more likely that child is able to handle it effectively.”
If parents immediately jump to solve their children’s problems themselves, kids will more easily become dependent on the parent to direct them.
What to do if you suspect your child is being bullied
Unfortunately, peer mistreatment and bullying do happen. But knowing how to react calmly is key, Dr. DeWine says.
If your child brings up the problem directly, really listen to what he or she is saying, he continues. How many times has it come up? How distressed is your child? It may be time to step in if your child is avoiding school or having serious stress reactions such as poor sleep.
Begin documenting events — include dates. If you feel the problem is severe, consider talking to your child’s school. Keep in mind teachers may not be aware of the bullying if it is happening outside of the view of adults, which is why documentation is so useful.
Follow up with school personnel until the problem is resolved. When children are repeatedly mistreated by peers, they need adults to intervene.
If your child hasn’t indicated peer mistreatment is happening but you suspect it might be, be present and let your child know you’re concerned. Focus first and foremost on how your child is doing and let him or her know you’re curious and want to help, Dr. DeWine says.
It may take multiple conversations, but it’s important to stay calm and be transparent.
“One conversation doesn’t fix anything,” he says. “It’s a pattern.”
What to do if you suspect your child is mistreating others
No parent wants to think of their child as being a bully. But to effectively prevent bullying, you must consider the possibility that your child may mistreat others or be perceived as a bully.
If your child is bullying others, try to avoid snap judgments or defensiveness — instead work to understand what he or she is trying to accomplish, Dr. DeWine says.
It may be an isolated incident — or circumstances causing stress to come out in inappropriate ways. Underlying issues may include exposure to violence, divorce or other family troubles.
Parents should seek mental health advice if their child is aggressive toward peers on a regular or recurrent basis, Dr. DeWine says.
“The vast majority of kids who bully are socially competent,” he continues. “It’s likely the child has real needs that are coming out in maladaptive ways.”
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