Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How Parents Can Help Their Bullied Child

These days, you can’t turn on the television or go online without seeing a story about bullying and anger in children. For those of us whose children are being teased, taunted, or physically harassed, it’s frustrating, scary and downright heartbreaking.

As a parent, I understand how it feels when you just want to make it all go away so your child doesn’t have to suffer. While most kids will have his or her feelings hurt by a classmate from time to time, bullying, on the other hand, is a serious issue.

Here are signs to look for when a child is being bullied:
  • Avoiding the bathroom at school
  • Avoiding unsupervised areas and activities
  • Becoming upset after getting a phone call, email or text
  • Losing friends
  • Isolating themselves and skipping activities they normally enjoy
  • Spending more time alone in their bedroom
  • Talking negatively about themselves
My own son was called names and taunted when he was the new kid in school. My husband James, and I were often worried, but tried not to seem too upset because we didn’t want to make our son feel worse. It took a while to figure out how to handle the situation, but eventually we learned some valuable parenting tips that I’d like to share with you.

  1. Listen, don’t judge. It’s important for your child to be able to talk to you openly and honestly without you making a huge reaction. Try to be a good listener. This means you try to remain neutral, even if it hurts, even if it brings back your own memories of childhood bullies. Ask your child, “What can I do to be helpful?” Then do it.
  2. Coach you child on how to react. Remember that this is your child’s experience, not yours. If you were bullied as a child, don’t let these feelings influence the situation. Teach your child to calmly leave the area when he is being bullied. For instance, if your child is bullied on the playground and feels unsafe, he could go to a teacher and explain what’s happening. Role play with him so he is prepared and feels like he has some control. Remember, bullies look for targets they can get a reaction out of.
  3. Find support at school. If your child knows he has a support system in place, he can feel less anxious and more empowered to help himself. Talk to his teachers, principal, or counselors about how to handle the problem. I know you may feel upset talking to someone, but you will feel less alone in the long run. Believe me, lots of parents are feeling the same way.
Bullying can be a very emotional time for you and your child. Remember, it may take some time to work through this issue. It’s not something that your child will necessarily figure out how to deal with right away, and that’s okay.

The most important thing our son learned from his bullying experience was that while he wasn’t able to stop other kids from being mean, he did have control over his response. That gave him a sense of control, which is important because many children feel powerless. Work together with your child, listen to him or her, and enlist the support of others. Coming together as a family will make the experience less traumatic for your child in the end.

This guest post was written by Janet Lehman, MSW, who has worked with troubled children and teens for over 30 years and is the co-creator of The Total Transformation Program. She is a social worker who has held a variety of positions during her career, including juvenile probation officer, case manager, therapist and program director for 22 years in traditional residential care and in group homes for difficult children.

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