What to Do if Your Child is Bullied

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Image via Katie Hurley

Bullying among children is commonly defined as aggressive behavior that can be physical or relational in nature and includes an imbalance of power or strength.  In general, bullying behavior is repetitive. 

Bullying can include physical aggression, teasing or name-calling, social exclusion or other forms of intimidation, and/or cyberbullying (intimidation via text, social media, or email). 

Bullying can have significant consequences.  Children who are bullied are at risk for the following:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal ideation
  • School refusal or absenteeism
  • Psychosomatic complaints (headaches, stomachaches, etc.)
  • Low self-esteem

Young children who are being bullied often avoid seeking help for fear that the bullying will worsen in response.  It’s important to pay close attention to any behavioral changes in your child that can’t be attributed to other sources of stress.  Children who are being bullied might experience:

  • Changes in eating habits
  • Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling asleep or nightmares)
  • Disinterest in social activities
  • School refusal
  • Poor school performance
  • Anxious behaviors (nail biting, hair twirling, pacing, etc.)

What to do if your child is bullied:

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Listen without judgment:

It is often the instinct of the parent to begin interviewing a child the moment he or she approaches with a complaint about bullying.  While gathering facts might come in handy at a later point, the immediate needs of the child include support and empathy. 

Listen to your child.  Avoid placing blame or responding with negative statements about the other child involved.  Bullying is both heartbreaking and isolating.  The fact that your child has come to you for help means that your child needs you to simply be a parent right now.  Keep your emotions in check.

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Contact the school:

Parents are often reluctant to contact the school because they are not sure what truly constitutes bullying and what might simply be a case of peers not getting along.  Get the school involved.

The truth is that your child is in school most of the day, five days per week.  Whether your child is being bullied or just needs a little help navigating the social world, the school can only help if you get the appropriate people involved.

Again, keep your emotions in check when meeting with the teacher or school administrator.  Relay the facts, as you understand them, and provide any additional history about the children involved (Were they once friends but grew apart?  Say that.)

Ask about bullying prevention at the school and what happens when bullying occurs.  Avoid the urge to contact the other parents; let the school handle parent communication.  Playing the blame game with other parents is likely to inflame the situation.  

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Increase the circle of peers:

Make sure that your child has several outlets when it comes to spending time with peers.  Some kids do prefer to stick to one or two close friends, but if those friendships fail it can lead to social isolation and loneliness.

Find classes and groups outside of school that truly match the interests of your child so that your child has other friends in his circle.  The larger the peer network, the more resilient the child becomes to negative peer interactions.

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Provide a safe haven:

Make sure that your home is a safe haven for your child.  In a warm and loving family environment, your child will find strength and resilience.  Be sure to deal with any sibling issues as they arise so that your child feels safe in his own home. 

A child who is being bullied in school needs a safe and loving environment to return to each day.  It’s your job to make that happen.  

Has your child been bullied?

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What to Do if Your Child is Bullied

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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