Bullying is never okay! It is a repeated and intentional behaviour, usually aggressive, where an individual or group targets another person with the intent to cause harm, distress, or fear. Particularly in children, the act can be toll-taking and can deprive them of self-esteem and confidence. As parents, it is not only important to recognise signs of bullying in your children, but it is also crucial to teach them how to stand up to their bullies. While it is not easy, with constant effort and a show of support, you can help your kids immensely.
In an interaction with the OnlyMyHealth team, Dr Puja Kapoor, Paediatric Neurologist and Co-Founder of Continua Kids, Delhi, discussed how parents can help their children become more confident and fight back against their bullies.
Signs Your Child Is Being Bullied
As children may not always be expressive about being bullied, it is important for parents to be observant of their children, advised Dr Kapoor. She recommended looking for signs such as torn clothing, reluctance to go to school, not eating well, frequent nightmares, crying, or general depression and anxiety.
A research article published in the Journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health found that children who were exposed to bullying were at an increased risk of mental health problems, with boys appearing to be more vulnerable to it than girls.
Another perspective research titled "The long-term impact of bullying victimization on mental health" published in the Journal World Psychiatry suggested that young victims of bullying are more prone to agoraphobia, depression, anxiety, panic disorder, and suicidality in their early to mid-20s compared to those who have not been bullied during childhood.
Importance Of Parental Support
Bullying has a negative impact on a child's psyche. It destroys their confidence, makes them feel helpless, and enhances their insecurity. This is when parental support plays a vital role.
“If you discover your child is being bullied, don’t tell them to have peace with it or do nothing about it," said Dr Kapoor, adding, "Instead, talk to them about what is really going on at school so that you can take the appropriate steps to rectify the situation. Make them believe that you would help them handle the situation.”
According to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that explored the effect of different forms of bullying on adolescent mental health, researchers found that parental support played a positive role in protecting adolescent mental health.
"Among them, “parental connectedness” had a positive protective effect on the mental health of adolescents after verbal bullying or peer neglect, i.e., the more parents understand the adolescents’ distress after verbal bullying or neglect at school, the higher the level of mental health of the adolescents, and the frequency of parental understanding increases by one unit, the level of mental health increased by 8.71 units and 1.05 units, respectively; “parental bonding” had a positive restorative effect on the psychological health of adolescents who were verbally bullied, i.e., for each unit increase in the frequency of “parental bonding”, the psychological health level of adolescents who were verbally bullied increased by 2.47 units," the study said.
How To Help Children Stand Up To Bullies
When it comes to helping children who are being bullied, Dr Kapoor advises reaching out to the school or the society where bullying is happening. Apart from that, she recommended recreating the situation at home and helping children manage the situation, or strategies to cope with bullying.
Furthermore, it is important to help kids identify teachers and friends that can help them when they are being bullied, she added.
Here are some additional strategies to support kids who are being bullied:
- Encourage your child to say "no" or “that’s not OK" against any form of bullying
- Educate them to reach out to their friends and other children at school in any such situation
- Help the child build emotional skills by making him/her understand his or her feelings
- Indulge children in cooperative, team-based activities to inculcate social skills and provide opportunities to build friendships with other children with similar interests
Dr Kapoor said, “Having at least one best friend can protect children against the negative effects of chronic bullying. Encourage the child to invite a close friend to do things together and help them spend more time together to build relationships.”
What Parents Can Do About Cyberbullying—A New Form Of Bullying?
Just like bullying, cyberbullying is an act done with the intention to cause harm, harass, threaten, or induce fear in people, only digitally.
It has become a more common form of bullying in today's time and poses a great risk to a person's mental health.
According to Dr Kapoor, it is therefore important to educate the child and yourself about cyberbullying and teach them not to respond to or forward threatening emails.
"Always be a “friend” with your child on social media platforms so as to be informed about the content on them. "Make the family computer the only computer for children, and have it in a public place in the home where it is visible and can be monitored," she said, adding, "If the child has a cell phone, let them know you will be monitoring their text messages. You can set the rule of phones being stored in a public area, such as the kitchen, and to be used for a limited period of time."
Bullying in all its forms is dangerous and harmful for your child’s psyche. As a parent, it is important to ensure that everything that is happening in your child’s life happens, even if they aren’t expressive about it. Ensure to keep an eye out for any signs of bullying in your child and take the necessary steps to build their confidence rather than taking matters into your own hands. Most importantly, make sure that your child knows you’re always there to support them when it's needed.