Keeping Your Kids Safe from Bullying
Kids come into our lives as adorable, vulnerable little people who need us to care for their every need in order to survive. As their world expands to include babysitters, preschool and eventually school, life gets complicated because as a parent you lose the feeling of control to keep them safe.
The potential for bullying concerns every parent. You are right to have concern because the potential long-term mental health effects of bullying on both the bullied and the bully can be significantly harmful. A 2013 Duke study found bullied kids were four times more likely to develop long-term anxiety and agoraphobia issues. Researchers controlled for both pre-existing mental health issues and family situations. Trauma research helps us understand how fear from a moment of terror and helplessness can go underground into the body and silently cause life-long fearfulness. These kids may have a hesitancy to speak up for themselves or back away from risking to become more successful in relationships and work. The bully also, can suffer long-term effects. These kids have a greater than normal risk of becoming a criminal or developing an antisocial personality.
Signs of Bullying
When we feel attacked emotionally or physically, our bodies release stress hormones to secure safety. If we freeze in fear, the stress hormones turn inward and create headaches, digestive problems, and anxiety. If you notice your child having frequent complaints of these physical symptoms and wanting to stay home from school, it’s time to compassionately inquire as to what’s happening in his/her life. Kids in junior high and high school don’t always tell their parents, yet 28% of children grades 6-12 are bullied. It’s important to pay attention.
Teaching Your Child
The best way your child can nip being bullied in the bud and avert long-term harmful effects is to immediately speak and move on his/her own behalf in a matter-of-fact way when someone aggressively picks on them. Rather than remain silent, make a short statement like, “”What’s with that,” “Stop that” or “That’s mean,” then turn and walk away. If you fight with a bully, you risk becoming a bully and the children who engaged in both being bullied and bullying had the worst long-term mental health outcomes. Rather, encourage your child to briefly assert his/her voice and disengage. In this way, your child’s stress hormones appropriately express in speaking and moving on his/her own behalf rather than getting stuck.
For parents of kids accused of being a bully, you can firmly, consistently and lovingly set limits on his/her aggressive behavior while communicating you want him/her to grow up mentally healthy with good relationships. Help your child practice turning anger, frustration into words, so they can communicate rather than impulsively act out their feelings. Teach them empathy and compassion by gently discussing how afraid and hurt the kids being bullied feel. And, find out if they are being bullied by a sibling (a common factor) or family member and intervene if they say yes or you observe it.
Bullying can be stopped.
- 1 National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics, http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED523061
- 2 Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. The Body Keeps the Score. 2015, pg. 217
- 3 Adult Psychiatric Outcomes of Bullying and Being Bullied by Peers in Childhood and Adolescence, April 2013, JAMA Psychiatry. 2013;70(4):419-426. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.504
Dr. Deborah Sandella is an award-winning psychotherapist, university professor, and the originator of the groundbreaking RIM Method, which is a heavily-backed neuroscience tool for reducing stress and improving the quality of life. She has been called a “master healer,” and has been helping thousands of people find themselves over the past 40 years. Dr. Sandella has frequently shared the stage with Jack Canfield, originator of the Chicken Soup For the Soul series and, with him, she has co-authored Awakening Power, a guided meditation program and instruction booklet. She has been acknowledged with numerous professional awards, including Outstanding Clinical Specialist, Research Excellence, and an EVVY Best Personal Growth Book Award.