It’s a mistake to tell kids to ignore bullies

How parents can support kids suffering bullying
It’s a mistake to tell kids to ignore bullies

Bullying is often talked about, but sometimes misunderstood. It’s defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. It is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated. Bullying can have long-lasting impacts on a child’s health. Kids who bully others are more likely to engage in violent or risky behaviors later in life. Their victims often take a different route.

The impact of bullying on victims

Kids who are bullied can face a variety of mental health struggles. They may deal with increased feelings of sadness and loneliness. Activities they used to enjoy no longer seem appealing. And if you’re a parent or caregiver, watch for signs of isolation.

“What we see most often in kids is avoidance,” SSM Health Psychologist Dr. Kathleen Hipke said. “They may no longer want to go to school or places where there will be social interaction with either the bully or those who have witnessed the bullying in the past.”

Over time, continued bullying can affect a child’s self-concept. And if it goes unchecked long enough, could lead to depression.

There are also physical issues to look out for. Kids who are bullied may develop irregular eating or sleeping patterns. You may also hear them voice more complaints about physical ailments like a stomachache.

Avoiding common mistakes

One of your first reactions may be to dismiss the bullying, or on the other end of the spectrum, confront it aggressively. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says the following mistakes should be avoided:

Never tell a child to ignore the bullying.
Do not blame a child for being bullied – even if he or she provoked it.
Do not tell a child to physically fight back. It could get them hurt, suspended or expelled from school.
Be careful about contacting the other parents involved. It may work in some situations, but in others, could make matters worse.

Working together as a team

One of the biggest things you can do for your child is to offer your support.

“If he or she comes to you to report a bullying problem, praise them for having the courage to speak up because it can be a very difficult thing,” Hipke said. “Reassure them it’s not their fault and that you’ll work together to find a solution.”

Once they feel comfortable speaking to you about the problem, reserve judgment and just focus on listening. That way you can learn about what’s going on while also showcasing your willingness to help. It might also be a good idea to reach out to your child’s school or extracurricular organization. They can provide valuable insight into the scope of the problem, and help create a plan to stop the bullying.
At home, you can offer advice by going through role-playing scenarios. The first line of defense will be to say “stop,” directly and confidently. Kids can also try using humor against bullies, or else one of the best defense strategies is simply walking away.

“In the end, remember that it may take a while to resolve the situation,” Hipke said. “Bullying doesn’t often end overnight. But with your help, both of you can come away closer and more confident.”