Bullying: Taking the Power Back

A disappointing number of school-aged children experience bullying. Bullies use many different tactics, including verbal, social, and physical abuse. Neither you nor your child can control a bully’s actions, but you can find power in your own actions and responses.

Because of the negative short and long-term effects of bullying, it is crucial for parents to watch carefully for these signs, which may indicate that your child is experiencing this problem:

  • Unexplainable injuries;
  • Lost or destroyed personal items;
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness;
  • Changes in eating habits, sleeping, nightmares;
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school;
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations;
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem, and
  • Running away from home, or self-injurious behavior.

As a parent, you can be there for your child if you recognize these signs. One major action to take is figuring out ways to build your child’s confidence i.e. help them develop their sense of self. This means helping them learn about themselves and excel at being who they are.

Building self-confidence also requires supporting the effort not just the outcome. Parents can encourage their kids by making comments such as, “I like how you always try hard,” or “You’re good at helping others when they need it.”

Some other suggestions include joining a new club, exercising, or honing a skill. The resulting boost in self-esteem will help the affected child ignore the mean kids.

Further, spending at least 15 minutes a day talking to your child will help them feel that they can approach you with problems. It is also very important to broach the topic of bullying with your child. Here are some questions I use to start the dialogue:

            “What was one good thing that happened today? Any bad things?”

            “What is lunchtime like at school? Who do you sit with? What do you talk about?”

            “What is it like to ride the school bus?”

Talking to your child also gives you a chance to practice strategies with them such as how to react to bullies. An aggressive response is always a bad idea. Instead, we should try to deny the bully the response they seek. Two ways to do this are by ignoring them and by using humor. After a few encounters, the bully may become bored and go away.

In my practice, I teach children to think logically about what the bully says to recognize that it isn’t a ‘fact’…I also teach them to say, ‘So?’ to all the comments made by the bully.

Psychologists use role playing in the office, and parents can too. For instance, I might have one parent model answering, ‘So?’ to every statement the child makes. Soon, they are likely to be laughing, as the person playing the bully struggles to come up with more insults. Then, I suggest that the parent and the child switch places.

Being bullied is a relentless, ongoing, horrible experience. It must be addressed as soon as possible. We can start with making sure our children feel safe talking to us or to someone else who can provide the support they need. Finding true friends can help ease feelings of hurt and isolation until everyone can keep growing, rising above to where the bullies can no longer reach.

Dr. Michelle Hintz, Psy.D.

At the Cadenza Center for Psychotherapy and the Arts, a dedicated roster of therapists, educational and behavioral consultants treat the developmental, emotional, cognitive, physical, and behavioral needs of both adults and children. Founded in 2001 by Michelle Hintz, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and board-certified music therapist, the Cadenza Center provides general services including individual and family therapy incorporating active treatment strategies such as sensory integration, DIR/Floortime, and social pragmatics.