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A child is bullied every seven minutes in this country, and most of the time no adults or peers step in to help. It’s a difficult topic for both kids and parents to navigate.
When your child comes home from school upset because someone has been mean or aggressive, it’s natural to be upset yourself. But it’s important to understand what really happened, and if your child is the target of bullying.
As a parent, you can help your child be less vulnerable to bullying by speaking freely with your child before he or she becomes a target. Start by calmly asking questions about the incident:
You also need to determine if there was any physical contact or threat. In some cases, such as with an older child or teen, the occurrence can actually be a crime, and you may want to contact the police. To assess if the event was harassment or a friendly argument versus bullying, ask your child:
Bullying typically involves a pattern of aggressive behavior, such as a more powerful kid targeting a weaker one. A one-time negative encounter with a peer or friend is not bullying. Be sure your child understands that bullying is not just a fight or argument, but unprovoked and repeated aggressive behavior or intimidation.
Discuss how your child can avoid being taken advantage of and who he or she can talk to as an ally at school. Children with less self-esteem are less likely to stand up for themselves and more likely to be bullied. Those with an unusual appearance may also be targets and may need your help figuring out how best to react to negative attention from bullies. Maintain open, supportive lines of communication about what’s going on and offer ideas about how your child can cope.
If your child draws unwanted attention with his or her behaviors, work with him or her to identify any behaviors that may irritate other children. Seek professional help if you do not feel your efforts are working, or if you suspect your child is a victim of bullying.
For more parenting tips, please visit the Growing section of our Lifespan Living health and wellness blog.
Jennifer Jencks, PhD works as the director of the Access Center at Bradley Hospital, and is the associate director of the Lifespan Pediatric Behavioral Health Emergency Services. She has twenty years experience working with children and adolescents with anxiety in private practice utilizing both psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.