“Am I stupid?” your child types in the search engine. You know he or she is miserable.
There is something bothering your little one. He tosses and turns at night. She picks at the food on her plate. He tells you he has a fever to get out of school. She doesn’t want to go to a birthday party her whole class was invited to. If you could read your child’s mind, you would see the whole story. A taller, bigger kid is calling her dumb. A popular kid is calling him stupid. Maybe there’s physical abuse they’re covering up and bruises you don’t see. Maybe there’s just threats of pushing, slapping, or tripping. Maybe he or she is being excluded from parties. Maybe every time your child goes online, he or she sees vicious messages from their classmate calling them names.
In fact, your child is being bullied.
It’s important you take action.
It’s important for your child to not just stop wondering, “Am I stupid?” but to feel that the bullying is being dealt with and stopped.
When you were growing up, bullying was regarded as something kids just got over when they grew up. It’s just how kids are, people would say. We all know better now. One study in the last five years found that schools with more bullying have lower test scores. Being bullied makes your child more at risk for suicide, depression, and anxiety. The effects aren’t just felt while the bullying is happening. A study in 2013 found that, in one of the researcher’s words, “There were some very strong long-term effects on their risk for depression, anxiety, suicidality, a whole host of outcomes that we know just wreak havoc on adult lives.”
Jean M. Alberti, PhD, a psychologist who started the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention, derides the view that bullying is “normal, kids-will-be-kids behavior. If an adult exhibited these bullying behaviors to a child, we’d call it child abuse,” Alberti says. “Why do we allow children to do it to other children? We teach children to be kind and compassionate rather than self-centered, and we teach them to wait their turn rather than allowing them to push their way to be first all their lives. We need to teach them in this same way to not bully each other.”
This is something you need to take very seriously.
You can see the changes in your child. They won’t talk to you. Maybe your child won’t open up to you because they’re scared or embarrassed. Or your child believes the things the bully says to them. They think it’s true.
You need to draw them out. Talking to you will help end the problem.
How can you tell whether your child is being bullied?
- They frequently complain of headaches or stomachaches. It’s the same way you react when you’re stressed.
- They fake illness to stay home from school. They want to get away from their bully.
- They don’t sleep well. They can’t fall asleep, or they have nightmares.
- The way they eat changes. They eat very little, or they eat constantly.
- They’ve lost friends. They don’t want to go to parties or hang out with other kids.
It’s time to talk to your child. Be prepared to listen. Be prepared to make your child feel worthy and valuable. Now more than ever, they need to feel loved. How do you make sure this conversation helps your child to overcome this problem?
- Listen. Let your child tell you in his or her own words. Don’t prompt them or finish their sentences.
- Don’t diminish what’s happened. Telling them you had it worse will make your child feel badly. Explaining away harsh words will make your child feel invalidated.
- Let them know they’re being brave to tell you what’s going on. Talking about bullying is the way to stop it. They need to stand up for themselves in a positive way.
- Hear their story, and tell them it’s not their fault. They didn’t cause this. They can’t fix it by changing who they are because they’re not the ones who need to change their behavior.
- Ask how they want to handle it. What do they want to do? This helps your child become part of the solution. These are skills they can use their whole lives.
- Make sure they know you will take action. You will not stand by because what is happening is wrong. You are there for them.
- Practice scenarios with them about what to do next time they encounter the bully. What could they say? Which teachers or authority figures could they turn to? Role-play so they feel confident when it’s time to put their plan in action.
Bullying involves aggressive actions when one child has more power — physical strength or popularity or knowing secrets — and he or she uses that power repeatedly.
When those aggressive actions happen online, it’s cyberbullying. Advice differs on whether or not to limit children’s use of social media and all the other outlets through which kids can be contacted and talked to online. Some kids will hold back telling their parents about cyberbullying so they don’t lose online access. If you remove their access completely, it could make your child feel like the one being punished. You know your child best, and you know the best option for them. You can decide what works best for your family’s Internet usage.
Now that you know what’s going on, what are the next steps for you and your child?
- Look to your child’s school and its policies. Studies show bullying can be reduced when school-wide programs are in place. Are programs like this in place? If they’re not, why aren’t they? What are the laws in your state or province affecting schools? There is no federal law about bullying in schools, but nearly every state and U.S. territory does have laws that apply.
- Talk to your child’s teacher. He or she should be on your side and be willing to help with your child’s problem. What behavior is OK in your child’s classroom? What isn’t acceptable? What about coaches, secretaries, librarians, and teaching assistants? How are people in authority responding to the bully’s behavior? There can be a significant gap between science and practice. A single assembly will not solve the problem.
- Counseling or therapy can be very helpful for children who are targeted by bullies. Giving children a chance to talk to a trained listener can make a huge difference in their ability to cope and get better.
Ending bullying takes time and persistence. Your child needs you right now, and they need you to help them.