Bullying is a painful experience that most people don’t forget. I recall being harassed regularly at 13 by two older girls about my “atomic hair” as I tried to make my way home from school. It’s a distant memory that I’m detached from today.
My professional interest in bullying came about when one of my children was bullied in the early school years. I learned the importance of managing bullying proactively. It’s something I help parents and children deal with in my clinic.
Over one third of children report being bullied, according to the World Health Organization. Bullying can have long term impact on mental health. These days parents don’t just have to watch for traditional bullying such as physical violence, taunts and social exclusion, we also have to monitor for cyber-bullying.
The results of a large recently published study gave me hope. The study found that for most children the effects of bullying reduced over time. The study included over 11,000 participants drawn a Twin Cohort Study in the UK. Participants completed mental health assessments at 11 and 16 years of age. The assessment looked anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, inattention, conduct problems, and psychotic-like experiences such as paranoid and disorganized thinking.
The study highlighted the general resilience of children. It found that bullying contributed to mental health difficulties but also that the effects of bullying generally dissipated over a two-year period. It also identified that pre-existing vulnerabilities of children such as prior mental health problems, personality and cognitive difficulties contributed significantly to whether a child developed mental health problems as a result of bullying.
If bullying happens, how can you help?
1 | Always do something
Even if it’s just listening, acknowledging your child’s pain and the wrongness of bullying. Helping your child develop strategies to deal with the bullying is important and fosters resilience.
2 | Help your child to understand what the bully wants when they hurt them
Many children internalize the message from bullies as “they are doing it because there is something wrong with me.” Help your child understand that bullies want to feel powerful. Understanding this often helps children take the first step towards responding more effectively.
3 | Teach your child strategies that may make them less of a target for bullies
There are many verbal and body language tricks that can help your child be less attractive to bullies. Bullies like to get certain reactions from their victims. If they don’t get the response they want they move to the next target. Books like Bully Blocking have lots of good suggestions.
4 | Don’t tell your child to just ignore it
Ignoring it generally doesn’t help. Instead, foster your child’s resilience by helping them learn pro-active strategies to manage the bullying and their own responses to it. This includes accessing support.
5 | Learn how to help your young person be safe online
There are many excellent resources about cyber-safety. If it isn’t already, ask your child’s school to make it part of the curriculum. We can’t ignore this very real part of a child’s world. Let’s help children build skills to manage it.
6 | Engage with your child’s school
The most common place bullying happens is school. Children are at school for most of the day and must attend by law. Bullying that occurs at school is often experienced as more distressing as children can feel there is no escape. Children may need your help to advocate even if they say they don’t. If a school is not aware bullying is happening they can’t assist.
7 | Get professional mental health help if needed
If your child’s behavior changes dramatically or you have concerns for their safety seek help immediately. If your child has an existing vulnerability they are less likely to bounce back in the two-year period so make seeking professional help a priority.
8 | Don’t give up
Keep supporting your child even if the steps you try initially don’t work. Your child will see that you are strong enough to see this difficulty through.
Bullying is an upsetting experience. Helping your child manage bullying proactively can help lessen the impact on their mental health and help them develop resilience.
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