Helping your child deal with bullying
By PATTI SKELTON-MCGOUGAN
Bothell Reporter Contributor
October 4, 2012 · Updated 3:34 PM
Most of us have been bullied at some point, whether we endured teasing, name-calling, or even physical aggression. Although the initial sting may go away, the memories of the experience haunt some people for the rest of their lives. You may forever be self-conscious about a crooked nose, your weight, or the way you dress — all because a bully made fun of you in middle school.
Research estimates that on any given day, 160,000 children miss school because they’re afraid of being bullied. Encountering a bully can ruin a child’s school experience. Now with cyberbullying, your child can be attacked in the safety of your own home. Bullying is more than a childhood rite of passage, it can lower self-esteem, increase rates of depression and suicide, and negatively impact a child’s academic performance.
Bullying occurs at almost any age, but it’s most prevalent in middle school. As a parent, it’s important to recognize the warning signs of a child being bullied. These may include emotional signals such as withdrawal, a drop in grades or loss of friends; and visible effects such as torn clothing, bruises or other signs of fighting. Another indication of bullying is when your child becomes upset about going to school, sports practice, daycare, or wherever the bullying is occurring.
Danny Hanson, who oversees the PEACE Anti-bullying Program at Youth Eastside Services, recommends that parents encourage children to start with simple steps after telling school personnel about the problem. First, avoid a bully by playing in a different area. Because there is safety in numbers, he also suggests hanging out with a buddy. Finally, Danny reminds parents to encourage kids who witness bullying to speak up and report it to teachers or an adult, even if it wasn’t directed at them.
It’s important to encourage your child to tell you when another child is being hurtful, either physically or emotionally. Let your child know that you are there to help. Dismissive statements like “It’s no big deal,” can shut down further communication, since bullying is a very big deal to a child.
Don’t assume your child knows how to talk to a teacher or counselor if the incidents involve a classmate. Rehearse how to ask an adult for help—ideally before any bullying has occurred. Offer some ways to help your son or daughter stand-up for to a bully without being confrontational, which can aggravate the situation. For example, discuss a made-up scenario or one from your childhood, and talk through ways that your child could respond.
Check in regularly to ascertain if your child continues to be bullied. You may need to get involved and talk to school personnel. Unless you have an existing relationship with a family, it’s best to avoid confronting a child bully or the parents of a bully. This can backfire and result in more aggressive behavior. If your child is having a difficult time overcoming the harm inflicted by a bully, it may be a good idea to seek counseling to avoid long-term issues.
Patti Skelton-McGougan is executive director of Youth Eastside Services (YES). YES is a nonprofit organization and a leading provider of youth counseling and substance abuse services in the region. While YES accepts insurance, Medicaid and offers a sliding scale, no one is turned away for inability to pay. For more information, visit YouthEastsideServices.org.