Bullying: A parent’s guide on how to help a child who is bullied

Bullying is one of the most common risk factors leading to mental illness in children, and yet we don’t give it the attention it deserves. But it can affect a child enormously. But are you confused about what to do when your child faces bullying?

The first thing to do is recognize signs. A child may express anger and shame, or even low self-esteem and self-confidence.

“They can go through feelings of anger, shame and helplessness, which leads to low self-esteem and confidence. Indeed, if your child, who is otherwise cheerful and happy, shows signs of irritability, fits of crying, reluctance or outbursts of anger at small triggers. These are some of the red flags that your child may be going through episodes of bullying,” says Mimansa Singh Tanwar, Clinical Psychologist, Head Fortis School Mental Health Program, Fortis National Mental Health Program.

Most children find it difficult to address bullying or share their experiences with a parent or teacher. This may be due to an actual or perceived imbalance of power. It could also be due to the fact that this unwanted aggressive behavior is coming from a friend or group of friends and they are confused on how to deal with it or stop it. Their failed attempts can create a strong sense of helplessness and a cycle of bullying.

At the same time, the expert points out that a lack of intervention and support from teachers and parents can lead to various side effects in children.

There could be a decline in academic performance, poor concentration, interpersonal adjustment problems, absenteeism, or disruptive behavior. A child can even develop mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression that drastically affect their life in the long run.

How can parents help a child who is being bullied?

As a parent, if you find your child is being bullied, here are some things you can do:

1. Ask your child

If you see signs that your child is not up to speed, ask them directly about how their peer relationships are going and if there are any episodes of bullying they may be facing. Understand that bullying is not one kind. It can be physical, verbal, and emotional. And bullying is usually much more than friendly teasing.

2. Keep calm while listening to them

Stay calm and collected as they open up. It’s normal for you as a parent to also feel emotions like anger, helplessness, and worry with it. However, avoid voicing these as the first reaction. Give them the space to share, offer your comfort and support.

3. Equip them with emotional skills

Instill in your child the assertiveness they need to deal with the episodes. Work with them on scripts for different ways they can respond to this. Using humor to disarm the situation, practicing different situations through role play, and maintaining positive body language are ways you can empower your child to deal with bullying.

4. Have free-flowing communication

Maintain your line of communication with them and check in regularly on how they are doing. Help them identify their strengths to boost their self-esteem and confidence.

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5. Report it to the school

If bullying continues and becomes severe, the school should be reported and appropriate steps taken to stop the bullying. If needed, provide your child with counseling support to manage psychological distress and coping skills.

Role of schools in dealing with bullying cases

According to the expert, schools should focus on creating a safe space without bullying through anti-bullying awareness programs. Speaking about the psychological impact of bullying and building a positive environment within a school should be encouraged through interactions, activities and campaigns.

The role of peer support as a bystander and responding with empathy and kindness as part of school culture and well-being should be encouraged and strengthened. Also, provide a system where reported cases are treated with sensitivity and support for both the child who is being bullied and the child who is being bullied.

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