More than 20 percent of all students report being bullied. Yet many of us as parents or caregivers might not know what to do when our children are bullied. Some of us may underreact, thinking children must learn to fend for themselves. Some of us may overreact, believing that the bully deserves some kind of revenge.
So what should we do? PACES’ Dereck Dean, Senior Director of Clinical & Specialty Services, has some tips.
“The two most important things a parent or caregiver can do for a bullied child is to dignify the child’s experience and help the child feel safe,” Dean said. “If you can do that, you will be going a long way toward helping your child heal from what can be a very traumatizing experience.”
Here’s what Dean advises:
- Be present for your child. Put away cell phones and other distractions so you can listen with care and curiosity to your child’s experience. Tell your child you really want to know how this experience made them feel.
- Listen non-judgmentally. Remember, a traumatic event is defined by the person who experiences it. What one child may perceive as a minor slight, another may feel extremely hurt and fearful. It’s also important to remember that your child’s brain is still developing and he or she does not process fearful or traumatic experiences in the same way an adult might.
- Validate your child’s experience. If you find yourself struggling to understand your child’s perceptions, you can use words like: “I’m sorry you feel mistreated.” Or: “That must have made you feel really scared.”
- Take concrete steps to help your child feel safe. Also, do your best to engage your child in creating those steps. Start by asking your child what you can do for them. If your child is reluctant to say, ask if they want to write down their ideas. You can also offer your own thoughts.
- Give your child the opportunity to participate in creating safety, but don’t force it. If your child is reluctant for you to take action (for example, by speaking with school officials) but you are certain that your child’s safety depends on it, simply say that you’re concerned and believe you should speak to the school about it. Give your child a chance to send a message in writing or through you.
- Follow up. Once you’ve established a course of action to help your child feel safe, be sure to stay in touch with your child. In the days and weeks that follow, ask your child how they’re doing? Have you been bullied again? Do you feel safe? Unsafe?
- Watch for changes in your child’s daily life activities. Some children may withdraw from family and friends, or engage in aggressive behavior themselves. Some may have a hard time concentrating, or express fear about returning to school. Their grades may drop. Or they may complain of physical problems, such as an upset stomach or frequent headaches.
- Seek professional help if changes in behavior persist. Know that professional help is available for your child. There are a number of places to get that help. PACES is one of them. Just call 913-563-6500 for an appointment.
“The bottom line,” Dean said, “is to show your child that you are a stable, caring, loving presence in their life. Even if your child continues to experience distress, have faith that you are creating a foundation for a stronger relationship and showing your child that he or she can count on you for help.”