Common signs that your child is being bullied:
As a general rule, parents should be taking stock of their children's overall physical and emotional well-being while attending services out of the home such as school, camps, lessons, playgroups, etc. Children are exposed to social media and an increasing number of experiences out of the home, this vigilance is of utmost importance. Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches or somatized illness, unexplained bruises, damaged or lost articles of clothing or electronics can be signs of bullying. In addition, loss of sleep, sleep disturbances, a drop-in school grades, self-destructive behaviors including self-harm as well as feeling of hopelessness, anger, depression and/or loss of friends. These can present in varying degrees and in no specific order. Parents should be aware that children can have unique presentations and severity of signs and symptoms.
What can you do about it?
Bullying would indicate that your child's peers are intentionally causing them emotional or physical pain in an abusive manner. If you suspect your child is being bullied, reassure your child it is not their fault. Keep an open line of communication that is supportive, empathetic and appropriately responsive. Children are often hesitant to discuss bullying, can appear embarrassed or humiliated and non-communicative.
Having an established open and shared line of communication with your child is always the first step in providing a safe and validating environment. Asking questions (but do not lead the child to answers), don't be judgmental and observe the child's reactions. Encourage the child to discuss their feelings or encourage them to give examples of the behavior they may have been subjected to via drawing, music, etc. Practice active listening by reflecting back what the child has expressed to ensure them you are listening and share an understanding.
In general, discuss the behaviors and issues you observed with your child, avoid getting angry, making assumptions and make decisions based on information learned. Consider talking to the leadership and teachers at school or other organization where bullying occurred. Many schools have anti-bullying programs and/or peer support programs. While maintaining support for your child try not to let the bullying "talk" become the focus of the child's life. Seek a professionally trained behavioral health professional if symptoms don't improve.
How can you talk to your child about being bullied?
Validate your child's feelings and emphasize that you believe them. Reassurance that bullying is not their fault, its not "ok" and that it is not acceptable behavior. Your child should know you are there to help and that you are always available to talk to. Offer your child another person, a "safe" person to talk to if they are not comfortable talking to you about the incident. Often a child should be instructed to walk away from bullying, if social media is involved it should be shut down or blocked.
Where do you go for help?
School leadership, teachers, behavioral health professionals, social worker, support groups and police department for extreme cases. If cyber bullying is an issue, report the behavior to the site being used and/or police when indicated. Keep accurate records (including photos of injuries) of bullying incidents, effect on your child and your response for the school and other professionals.
What can you do to make sure the bullying stops?
There are some strategies you can use to help stop bullying. If you do not feel at risk, as a first step you can tell the bully to "stop" and then calmly and walk away from the incident. You can tell an adult about the incident and report it to your family. Bullies attempt to make their victims feel powerless and fearful. If you do not display fear or sadness, often a bully loses interest. If you don't get angry or upset, you will maintain power and control in the situation. Sometimes when the bully loses their power over you, they become disinterested. Don't fight with bullies or engage them, this is the response they would welcome. For cyber bullies, ignore messages, cut off communications, notify the server, website and/or police if indicated. Be aware of bullying going on around you, buddy up with a friend to help. Often children alone are easier to bully than those in pairs or groups.
In cases of extreme bullying and life-threatening incidences, you should seek the advice of police and behavioral health professionals. As a general rule, if you have taken all the appropriate measures and you suspect the bullying has not stopped, removing the child from the environment should be considered. You would want to limit the possibility of long-term effects upon the child.
What are the short- and long-term effects of bullying on children?
Systematic bullying is an intentionally aggressive abuse of power over another individual with the intent of victimization. It can be physical or emotional and almost always carries some short- and long-term consequences. In the short term, victims of bullying can have emotional or physical symptoms, experience a drop in their academic performance, loss of friendships and feeling of anger, insecurity and helplessness. In cases of severe bullying, victims may be at a higher risk of suicide. Families can often enter a period of denial followed by anger. Proactively discussing bullying can offset some of the short-term effects as a child will be forewarned and have a narrative in mind if they should experience bullying. In addition, the child will know it's not their fault and to discuss the issues with a responsible adult and their families.
Long-term effects of bullying are evidenced in those who are victimized by bullies and those who are initiating the bullying behaviors. Those who participate in bullying activities generally have existing emotional difficulties including a lack of empath and are susceptible to increased evidence of depression, substance abuse, anxiety, poor interpersonal relationships with continued hostility and aggression towards others. Victims of bullying are at a higher risk of depression, anxiety panic attacks and agoraphobia. They run the risk of having lifelong struggles with presence well-being, safety, happiness, self-esteem, self-worth, anger as well as suicidal thoughts and actions. These types of long-term effects are similar to those of other types of long-term abusive behavior perpetrated upon children during developmental years.