Mental Health: Helping Your Child Stand up to a Bully

Society | July 4, 2003, Friday // 00:00| Views: | Comments: 0

Childhood should be a time filled with wonder and joy, but the reality for many kids is often much different. They're the victims of bullying at school or on neighborhood playgrounds. Children who are intimidated, threatened, or harmed by bullies often experience low self-esteem and depression, whereas those doing the bullying may go on to engage in more serious antisocial behaviours as adolescents and adults. Bullies often have been the victims of bullying or other mistreatment themselves.

If you want to help your child stand up to a bully, first listen to him/her. Just talking about the problem and knowing that you care can be helpful and comforting. Your child is likely to feel vulnerable at this point, so it's important that you let him know you're on his side and that you love him.

Talk to your child about why some people act like bullies. Remember that your child may feel guilty, that he is somehow to blame. Reassure your child that he did not cause the bullying. Explain that kids who bully are usually confused or unhappy.

How can your child handle a hostile confrontation with a bully? Getting angry or violent won't solve the problem; in fact, it's giving the bully exactly what he wants. And responding with physical aggression can put your child at risk. On the other hand, going along with everything the bully says is not a good way to handle the situation. Your child needs to regain his sense of dignity and recover his damaged self-esteem - agreeing to be a victim won't accomplish this.

Empower your child to act first. For example, suggest that your child look the bully in the eye and firmly say, "I don't like your teasing and I want you to stop right now." Your child should then walk away and ignore any further taunts from the bully. If your child fears physical harm, he should always try to find a teacher or move toward friends who can provide support.

Because bullies often target socially awkward children, you should encourage your child to develop more friendships. Suggest your child join social organizations, clubs, or teams. Encourage him to invite other kids over to play on a regular basis. Sometimes just being in a group with other kids can keep a child from being victimized.

In many cases, bullying won't require your involvement. Sometimes, though, the direct intervention of an adult is necessary, especially in cases of persistent bullying. If you fear that your child may be seriously harmed or suspect his emotional health may be suffering, it's important that you step in. That may mean walking to school with your child or talking to your child's teacher, school counselor, or principal about the problem. It may embarrass your child, but his safety should be everyone's primary concern.
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