We want the best for our children. So it’s devastating when we learn that they are being bullied. We’re heartbroken that we couldn’t protect them from this terrible experience. And we may feel powerless to stop it. Unfortunately, we can’t protect our children from everything. But there are things that we can do as parents or loved ones to support them. And help them navigate their experiences.
How do I know if my child is being bullied?
[My son’s] personality kinda changed…He started really isolating himself. Staying in his room a lot, and he didn’t want to come out. He stopped doing the things he loved doing…playing the guitar and video games. He loved going to school…[but] he would get so anxious about the thought of going to school that he would make himself physically ill.
So I started the conversation by asking what was going on.
Often, the signs that a child is being bullied show before they express what’s happening. They can present as changes in mood, attitude, or behavior. Sudden changes that may be a sign of bullying can also be:
- Changes in personality (ex: a child who is usually happy may seem more sad, angry, anxious, etc.)
- Loss of interest in activities that they love doing
- Isolating themselves from friends, family, and others
- Sudden loss of friends or change in friend circle
Sometimes our children tell us what’s happening in their lives, and sometimes they don’t. But when we notice these changes in our children, it’s important that we act. Start a conversation with them about what you’ve noticed. Ask them how they are feeling. Recognizing the signs of bullying is the first step in helping our children navigate this experience.
How can I make my child feel safe?
Bullying can make someone feel powerless. Engaging your child in conversations that will empower them can help. You may want to ask them:
- What can we do together?
- What can we do together to make you feel better?
- What can/can’t we control about this situation?
- What’s in our power to do?
Asking these questions can help validate their feelings and experiences and help them understand their power in this situation. Your child may feel scared, anxious, sad, and angry. These feelings can escalate into mental health challenges like depression, PTSD, and school avoidance. It is natural to feel strong feelings like this after experiencing bullying. None of this is their fault or your fault. But how you respond can help.
During this tough time in their lives, it’s important for parents to be emotionally strong for their children. Think about how to create a safe and calm environment for your child. Emotionally positive interactions with our children help build trust and safety. We also show our children that though we can’t control the actions of others, we can control ourselves. We need to show them strength and be honest about what we are feeling, so we can empower our children to find their own strength.
What can we do about the bullying?
In supporting our children through this difficult experience, our first reaction may be anger. And rightfully so—because we’re hurting because our children are hurting. But it’s important when trying to help our children cope with bullying that we don’t act out of anger. Here are some steps that you can take with your child:
- Make a plan with your child. Have a discussion with your child about what to do about bullying. Discuss what they will do and who they will go to if they experience bullying.
- If possible, limit your child’s screen time. If your child is experiencing cyberbullying, it may be a good idea to limit their time on their cell phones. Sometimes messages and social media can remind them of what they are experiencing and make them feel worse.
- Find out what your child’s school’s bullying policies are. Find out what the school can or can’t do in response to the bullying. Schools are often limited in what they can do in response to bullying issues. Ask about the consequences and actions that the school will take. Are their answers enough to keep your child safe? If not, consider how to help your child find safety.
- Talk to your child’s teachers and school administrators about the bullying and your concerns, and develop a plan for your child. For example, a teacher may be able to move your child’s seat. Or let them leave class a bit earlier or have a code for if your child needs to leave the classroom to talk to a counselor or administrator or needs a break.
- Document your conversations with school staff and personnel. Meeting in person and talking over the phone or face-to-face is helpful. But documentation may come in handy if you need to escalate this issue to the local school board or seek legal counsel.
- If the situation does not improve, move or transfer schools. Sometimes the bullying doesn’t stop. If none of the steps taken stop the bullying or help the situation, then consider moving or transferring your child to a different school. Removing them from this environment may be necessary to make your child feel safe.
It isn’t always easy to be an advocate for our children. It takes resilience, courage, and heart. We all want the best for our children. And helping them through this tough time in their lives is doing the best we can.