One in five high school students report being bullied at school, making bullying an unfortunately common experience for many adolescents and children.(1) And it can have a serious and lasting impact on a child’s academic achievement, self-esteem, and mental health.
Finding out your child is being bullied can be tough as a parent. You want to protect and support them, but you may not know how. Luckily, there are steps you can take to help your child cope with the situation and even work to prevent bullying from happening in the first place.
In this article, we offer tips for parents who have a child who is getting bullied, as well as advice for parents whose child is the one doing the bullying.
Because bullying can take on many forms, it's important to establish a clear definition. Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which an individual or a group intentionally and repeatedly causes another person discomfort or harm. There is a power imbalance—such as physical strength or access to information—that the bully uses to control the victim. And the involved youth are not siblings or romantic partners.(1)
Bullying can take the form of:(2)
- Physical bullying: Hitting, tripping, or taking one's personal items
- Emotional/social bullying: Excluding someone from a group or spreading rumors
- Verbal bullying: Making threats, hurtful comments, or name-calling.
- Cyberbullying: A form of emotional or verbal bullying that takes place online
Signs Your Child is Being Bullied
Common signs of bullying include:(3)
- Feeling anxious, stressed
- Losing interest in activities they used to enjoy
- Wanting to avoid school or asking to come home
- Physical complaints such as stomach aches or headaches
- You notice cuts, bruises, or scratches that your child can't explain
- Avoiding social situations
- Academic issues
- Trouble sleeping
Many signs are not exclusive to bullying and can be indicative of other problems, so it’s important to look at the behavior in the context of your child’s overall mental well-being.
How to Respond to Bullying
Some of the factors that contribute to bullying behavior are out of your control, such as the school environment or the home life of the child doing the bullying. So, don't blame yourself if your child is being bullied. But there are steps you can take to help your child cope with the situation, lessen the impact, and work to resolve the issue.
Supporting Your Child Who Is Being Bullied
Whether out of fear or shame, many children who are getting bullied do not tell their parents or other adults what’s happening. So it's important to be proactive, recognize the signs, and start a conversation with your child if you suspect they are experiencing bullying.
Talk to your child: The first step is to talk to your child about what is happening. You want to gather details about the bullying, such as what type of bullying it is, where it takes place, and how often. This information will help you better understand the situation and determine how to help your child.
Teach them coping skills: Remind them that it is not their fault. Help them understand that the bully is likely experiencing their own problems, and it has nothing to do with them.
Problem-solve ways to react: When a child is insulted or teased, they can be taken off guard and may respond in ways that encourage more bullying. Help your child come up with responses that will stop the bullying and diffuse the situation. By responding with simple language, without getting emotional, your child can take the power back from the bully.(4)
Encourage your child to seek help from an adult: Make sure your child understands that adults are there to help resolve bullying situations. Advise your child to tell a trusted adult, such as a teacher or school counselor so that they can address the issue.
Emphasize positive social interactions: Help your child build a strong support system of friends who will stand up for each other.
Ways to Prevent Bullying
While you can't control everything that happens at school, these are some things you can do to help prevent bullying.
Encourage communication: Keep the lines of communication open with your child, so they feel comfortable coming to you when they face problems.
Talk about bullying before it happens: Talk to your child about what bullying is, so if they are ever in a situation where they or their peers are being bullied, they will know how to identify it.
Teach them to be an upstander: Encourage your child to speak up if they see someone being bullied. Research shows that peer bystanders play an important role in bullying prevention.(5)
Approaching Your Child's School
If you find out your child is getting bullied, bring the issue to the school’s attention and ask them what they are doing to address it. Start by talking to the adult immediately in charge, such as the teacher. But if the problem is not resolved, don’t hesitate to go to the school administrator.
Many schools have anti-bullying policies and procedures for dealing with bullying. Research shows that these policies can reduce bullying behaviors by about 20%.(6)
Qualities of effective anti-bullying interventions include:
- A whole-school approach and awareness(7)
- Social and emotional learning programs within the classroom to develop skills such as empathy(7)
- Bystander intervention emphasis(8)
If the school does not have strong anti-bullying practices in place, you can request a meeting with the school staff to discuss the issue and potential solutions.
What if My Child Is the One Bullying Others?
It can also be difficult to hear that your child is engaging in bullying behavior. But it’s important to separate the behavior from the child. Your child is not inherently a bad person because they bully others. Often, children who bully are acting out because they feel insecure, have difficulty dealing with their emotions, or think it will make them fit in.
Here are some steps you can take to address your child’s bullying behavior.
Talking about the behavior: Speaking with your child is key to understanding why it’s happening and how to address it. If they struggle to talk about their feelings, consider seeking professional help—such as a child therapist.
Set appropriate consequences for bullying behavior: Appropriate consequences include things like losing phone privileges if they have been engaging in cyberbullying.
Teach empathy: Help your child understand how their actions are impacting others by taking the perspective of the child getting bullied.
Help them fix the mistake: If they have bullied someone, encourage them to apologize and repair the damage they have caused. This will help them understand the consequences of their actions and how to take responsibility for them.
If your child continues to bully after you’ve taken steps to address the issue, it may be time to consider a mental health evaluation. A therapist can help identify any underlying issues that may be contributing to the bullying behavior.
Support Is Available
No parent wants to hear that their child is being bullied, or that their child is bullying another child. But unfortunately, it's a reality for many kids. The good news is, help is available. Therapy can help build your child's confidence and self-esteem, as well as teach them coping skills to deal with bullying.
Handspring therapists have decades of experience treating childhood mental health concerns. Our team can help address the short-term challenges, as well as work on long-term solutions to build your child's toolbox for health and wellbeing.
If you want to learn more about therapy at Handspring, book a free consultation with us today.