Bullying and Mental Health: What Parents Need to Know If Their Child is Being Bullied
One in five children indicates being bullied, and 41% of bullied children report that they believe bullying could happen to them again. This is a pervasive problem that affects every school, neighborhood, and city.
It's no surprise that bullying has profound effects on mental health. Research shows that victims of bullying are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. They are also more likely to drop out of school prematurely and experience health issues like stomach pains and headaches.
As a parent, you undoubtedly love your children and want to keep them safe. That's why bullying can be so heartbreaking- it triggers a sense of helplessness. But you can take steps to support your child and improve the situation. Here's what you need to know.
Know the Signs and Symptoms
In an ideal world, your child would readily tell you everything that's going on with them. But life doesn't always happen that way. Instead, parents should look for subtle changes if they're concerned about their child's well-being.
Keep in mind that your child might not tell you they're being bullied directly. This is especially true if they've internalized the abuse or assume it's somehow their fault. They might also avoid disclosing the issue if they worry you can't or won't help them.
Some of the common signs of bullying include:
dawdling or refusing to go to school
frequently complaining of feeling sick
no longer wanting to spend time with usual friends
increased crying or severe bouts of anger at home
a sudden drop in academic performance
increasingly wanting to use (or stop using) social media
unexplained bruises, scratches, or marks (which could indicate getting into fights)
no longer wanting to participate in usual extracurricular activities
These symptoms, of course, can overlap with other mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or substance use. But if you're concerned, it's helpful to ask your child directly. You might start by saying, "I've noticed that you seem quieter and more distracted lately. You keep telling me that you hate school now. I'm worried someone is treating you badly or bullying you."
If you discover that your child is being bullied, you may naturally feel enraged. But you don't want to overreact to the situation. Your child already probably feels embarrassed and ashamed. In addition, they might be worried that you will make things worse.
And so, it's important to stay even-keeled and stable. Your child needs to see that you are there to listen and support them. You also must convey that you aren't going to lose your cool or get them into more trouble. Better yet, by staying calm, you can develop a reasonable plan of action.
Form Alliances With Their School
If the bullying is happening on campus, the school has an obligation to help support your child and fix the situation. Of course, these things are easier said than done. At times, these issues can become a classic case of 'he-said, she-said.'
That said, it's critical to raise your concerns with the school administration promptly. Ask what they intend to do about the issue. If they have a zero-tolerance policy (as most schools do), you may need to review these terms with them.
Always document what your child says or what you observe directly. If cyberbullying is the issue, take several screenshots.
Always Be Their Cheerleader
While you aren't solely responsible for your child's self-esteem, you play a profound role in how they perceive themselves. Confidence starts in the home. So the more you can praise, validate, and highlight your child's goodness, the more empowered they may feel.
That's not to say they will be immune to the effects of bullying. You can love your child with everything you have, but love doesn't shield people from pain.
Instead of trying to rescue their feelings, focus on celebrating their worth. Continue to emphasize how special and important they are.
Older children will likely pretend to ignore you and roll their eyes. But that doesn't mean they aren't taking in what you say. More than ever, it's important to express your love and admiration.
Avoid Perpetuating More Bullying
Although you'd never intentionally harm your child, some parents can make existing bullying even worse. Be mindful of the following responses:
Accusing your child of being helpless or weak: Regardless of how they present themselves, it's not your child's fault they're being bullied. Insinuating that they're doing something wrong only instills more shame.
Assuming it will resolve itself on its own: Bullying can certainly get worse before it gets better. If a bully doesn't have a real reason to stop their behavior, they will likely continue doing it. Inaction can be detrimental to your child's well-being.
Telling them that it's a rite of passage or a normal part of childhood development: Even if bullying was normalized when you were growing up, that doesn't make it okay. We know that bullying can leave a lasting imprint on one's mental health, so there's no excuse for avoiding intervention.
Criticizing how your child responded: Do not demean your child for what they did (or didn't do) after being bullied. Instead, they need you to understand that they reacted as a mode of survival.
Seek Professional Support
Bullying can make your child feel scared, insecure, and ashamed. This doesn't mean you've failed or done anything wrong as a parent. It simply speaks to the devastating effects peers can have on one another.
Therapy can provide a supportive and safe environment for your child. Consider having them meet with a therapist (either alone or with you) to process their feelings and learn healthy coping skills to manage any related distress.
Parenting takes a village, and that's why we're here to help. We understand that raising children is an incredible task, but we also know how emotional and challenging the work can be.
With that, we wholeheartedly believe in helping your child live to their fullest potential. No matter their struggle, we are here. Contact us today to learn more about our unique approach and our commitment to your family's well-being.