Adolescents, Articles by Jacqueline McDiarmid, Children, Mental Health

What to do if you think your child is being bullied

Sadly, there are bullies everywhere.

In my practice I see families where small children are bullied, teenagers who are bullied and adults who are bullied or have been bullied in the workplace. The impact of this behaviour can leave a long-lasting injury just like any other kind of abuse.And many teenagers and young people attempt to take their life simply because they feel they can’t get away from the pain it causes. Children and teenagers are impacted by the messages they receive from their peers and if they are hearing that they are worthless they quickly begin to believe it.

Bullying is never funny and never harmless.

Many parents are concerned that their child might be being bullied.Or know that bullying is going on but don’t know what to do. Here are some actions all parents can take to ensure they are across keeping their child/teenager safe both in the school yard and beyond.

How do you find out what is going on?

1. Keep the line of communication open with your child. A good time to have difficult conversations is driving in the car or when you say goodnight to them in their bedroom. Asking indirect questions is a starting point.For example, “Is there anything bothering you?”. If they shut down, leave it and perhaps ask the other parent to have a go or a relative or family friend. Both children and teenagers find direct eye contact and questions with adults difficult. This is why driving or talking in a slightly dark room work well.

2. If your child is under 12, then have a look at some of their art work. Or keep an ear out for how they are playing with their toys. Often children this young will draw or paint images which represent what is going on in their lives or act out worried with their toys.

3. If your child is over 12 and they seem to be struggling in general,it can be a good idea to connect them with a private counsellor or therapist – if they click with a counsellor they will usually tell them what is going on. It’s important to find a counsellor who the teenager really likes. So be prepared to try a few until your teenager says they are happy. Also find one who will keep you updated with any concerns.

4. One-on-one time between a parent and a teenager is one of the best ways to open up the line of communication. I encourage all parents to make time for this even if you don’t think anything is going on. Hint: Do something together that your teenager wants to do, not what you would like to do.

5. Monitor social media, phones and other devices – you will soon see a pattern of interaction that will alert you to bullying behaviour.

6. Ask their school teacher.Most teachers will assess social interactions at school if a parent is concerned.

Why is your child being bullied?

1. Sometimes bullying is going on because there are some social issues for the child/teenager. Get any required further assessments if you have a niggling doubt. For example, it is common for children with AD/HD and ASD to find themselves being targeted by bullies. This is because it is more difficult for children with neurological issues to read social cues. There are specialist services to help children in these situations to socialise more appropriately and also improve their self-esteem.

2. Many children struggle with development of empathy for others and therefore have very little idea of the impact of bullying – they may think it is funny or fun. And sometimes your child/teenager is just at the wrong place and the wrong time.

3. Children and teenagers can be bullied by someone who has also been bullied or abused.

4. Some children and teenagers lack self-esteem and find themselves attracted to others who treat them poorly.

What to do if you find out your child/teenager is being bullied.

1. Contact the school. Find out what the school process is and arrange to meet the head teacher or principal. Parents should also make contact with the school counsellor to get your child/teenager support. The school will begin investigating the claim.

2. Remove technology like phones and computers from the child’s bedroom and limit the use of social media and messages. This is important because a lot of bullying that goes on these days is through these devices and often late at night when parents are asleep or otherwise busy. Parents should model good technology use themselves such as putting technology away at a certain time each evening.

3. If you are not happy with the school’s approach and the bullying continues, you need to seriously consider moving your child to another school.

4. If you decide to move your child to another school, ensure you do not replace “like for like” – in other words, consider the culture of the new school and the fit for your child and teenager.

How do you build your child’s/teenagers self-esteem again?

1. Support your child to join activities outside of their school. Choose interests that your child/teen will be naturally good at and will likely meet like-minded child/teens. This will give them a break from what is happening at school.

2. Counselling can work very well.If your child is a teenager, source a counsellor who is in private practice or at a service that is not attached to the school for him/her to see. Many teenagers will not talk to a school counsellor because they don’t trust them. This will give them privacy and space to work through concerns.

3. Children/teenagers who are bullied can end up with mental health concerns. If you are worried, have your child assessed for anxiety or depression and support your child/teen to be treated for these illnesses.

4. Family counselling will help give parents strategies (particularly if your child is under 12 and doesn’t want to go to see a counsellor) to deal with the bullying and also provide support and guidance to the parents.

5. Support your child/teenager to socialise with their peers in an age appropriate way. Parents need to provide regular opportunities for teenagers to meet socially with their peer group in different social contexts. Re-examine the rules you have in the home around socialising – are they too rigid? Or too loose?

Bullying is everyone’s problem. We as parents all need to be engaged with our children and their behaviours with peers. And we need to be prepared that our child could be bullying others.  Keep talking to your kids and keep checking their social media – and empower them to make the right decisions when interacting with others.

If you are concerned about your adolescent or child – either being bullied or being a bully, please don’t delay getting help. A Family Counsellor or Therapist can very quickly assess all the moving parts of the problem and ensure that your son or daughter is back on track and enjoying life once again. I see many parents who wished they had sourced help a lot sooner. Go with your gut – parents are the best experts on their children.If you think there is something wrong then there probably is.

Don’t delay in reaching out. Contact us today on 02 8968 9397.

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