Strategies to help your child if they are a bully or are being bullied at school
Whether your child is being bullied or acting like a bully at school, these behaviors can affect their self-esteem, relationships, and mental health. As a parent, you can help protect your child’s emotional well-being by watching out for the signs of bullying and getting your child the help they need.
Signs of bullying
Although these symptoms can have other causes, a child who is being bullied may demonstrate one or more of the following:
- Not wanting to go to school
- Loss of personal items like clothes, toys or books
- Frequent headaches
- Trouble sleeping
- Unexplained injuries
- Trouble with grades or behavior at school
- Avoiding social situations
- Poor self-esteem
On the other hand, your child may be acting as a bully if they show signs such as:
- Having friends who are known bullies
- Getting into physical or verbal fights
- Suddenly having new possessions
- Aggressiveness or competitiveness
- Discipline problems at school
- Blaming others for their problems
- Anxiety about social standing or popularity
Both types of bullying can have negative effects on your child’s mental health, leading to risky or self-destructive behaviors. If you recognize any of these signs in your child and identify bullying issues, it’s important to work with them to encourage positive behaviors and adaptive coping skills.
How to stop your child from being bullied
If you believe your child is being bullied, you should first speak to your child’s teachers and administrators. They may or may not be aware of the problem, but schools are increasingly working to address and stop bullying.
In addition to talking to the school, it’s important to talk to your child about the bullying and how to handle it.
“Teach your child strategies about how to walk away and how not to engage with bullies,” says Alice Ann Holland, Ph.D., ABPP a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist and the Research Director for the Neuropsychology Service at Children’s Health℠. “Bullies often are seeking some degree of attention or reaction. If the targeted child takes away that satisfaction, it can stop those behaviors.”
Provide your child support and encouragement. Also, although bullying behaviors are never justified, you may also want to talk with your child’s teachers to determine if your child is doing anything that may be making them a target. For example, children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) sometimes may be bullied because of impulsive behaviors related to their ADHD diagnosis (e.g., talking during class, invading others’ space).
How to stop your child from bullying
If you think your child is a bully, it’s time to bring in reinforcements, says Dr. Holland. Work with your child’s teachers to develop a plan for what consequences your child will face at home and at school for bullying. Regular communication with your child’s teachers is essential to enable consistent enforcement of the behavioral plan, which is the most effective way to address bullying.
It’s also a good idea to talk to your child about empathy and emotions.
“You need to teach empathy and perspective taking,” says Dr. Holland. “Ask your child how he or she would feel if someone did that to them. How did the other kid react, and how did that make them feel? Teach them to take others’ perspectives to understand how being bullied feels.”
Professional counseling and therapy can also help both bullies and their victims improve behavior and achieve better mental health.
If your child is experiencing behavioral or mental health problems related to bullying, talk to pediatric psychiatry or neuropsychology specialist at Children’s Health.
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