Childhood bullying is something that unfortunately almost all of us have experienced, and our children will experience at some point as well – 1 in 5 children experience bullying, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. There are many different forms of bullying besides the typical face-to-face bullying, especially with the rise of the internet and social media, where cyberbullying has become a common form of bullying amongst youths. It’s important to have open and honest conversations with your children about bullying, its different forms, and how to handle it.
What is bullying?
Bullying is a behavior that’s deliberately demeaning, harassing, or using derogatory language towards another person. It tends to happen over a period of time and is rarely a one-off event. There are different kinds of bullying, from physical, face-to-face bullying to exclusion or gossiping, or online “cyber” bullying. Cyberbullying can be difficult as it can often come from anonymous sources. Someone may feel empowered to say something behind a screen that they would never say in-person.
What can you do if your child is being bullied?
Helping your child as a parent and/or caregiver can be difficult for many reasons – you may want to burst in and defend your child from the bully or bullies, but doing this could make the problem worse. Often, a parent getting involved can exasperate the issue, or the child may feel embarrassed about the parent’s involvement. If bullying is happening in school, you also face a certain feeling of removal from the situation since you can’t physically be there to defend your child.
Instead of trying to directly intervene, try talking to your child’s school counselor or administrator about the issue to make sure they are aware of it. Schools have come a long way in how they handle bullying, and they will be better equipped to handle the situation. Even if the bullying is occurring outside of school, for example online, it’s still important to let your child’s school know as it may affect the dynamics at school.
And sometimes, there may be certain scenarios where a child/young adult can handle bullying on their own. Part of becoming an adult and growing as a person is experiencing challenges and unfortunately bullying is something that can tend to happen to children, no matter what. As a parent one of the best things you can do is to simply be there for your child no matter what they are going through. Help them understand that no matter what the outside world may say to or about them, you accept them for who they are, and empower them to stand up for themselves.
What if your child is the bully?
If this is the case, there will probably be signs – you may get a call from school about types of behavior your child is displaying, which can include picking fights, being aggressive towards others, or taking actions to control or dominate others.
If this is happening, you need to be more direct with your child in those types of situations. Ask them what’s going on and tell them what you are hearing about from school. Most bullying occurs in isolation, as in not in front of adults and/teachers, so you as the parent/caregiver need to address it head on with the child in your care.
A child’s home environment or background can also influence their behavior so make sure to model kind and safe behaviors for a child when they are in your care. Often, children who bully come from challenging backgrounds where they may have experienced harsh discipline, lack of control at home, witnessing bullying or abuse at home, and/or neglect. Children with these experiences may be looking for a way to exert power and control over others because they may feel powerless at home. Positive attention and healthy interactions can help a child feel seen while learning new behaviors.
Whatever your child is experiencing, make sure you have direct conversations with them about how to treat others with respect and kindness.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 50 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.