October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and unfortunately, the statistics surrounding bullying are grim. In the United States, one out of every five students between the ages of 12-18 is a victim of bullying during the school year. Students in sixth grade are most likely to get bullied, and the older students get, the less likely they are to report bullying.
As a parent, it’s important to take heed of bullying that occurs and recognize the symptoms of bullying. The truth is, bullying isn’t just about the here and now: it can have lifelong consequences on your child’s mental health. A study published in the JAMA Psychiatry Journal found the children who are bullied during their school years are more likely to develop psychiatric and depressive disorders in their teenage years, and even into adulthood.
Children are impressionable, and how they are treated at a young age will impact their perception of themselves and the world around them for years to come. With this in mind, here are a few key things to keep in mind when your child is being bullied:
You may not realize it, but there are anti-bullying laws that help protect your children from unfair treatment. If your child’s bullying experience is physical and unmanageable by parents and school staff, it may be time to hire a lawyer. “Criminal acts, such as stalking, cyber bullying, and threatening are all punishable by law—even when your child is underage,” says David Hunter Law Firm, a criminal defense attorney in Fort Bend County. “As a parent, you shouldn’t feel pressured into staying quiet or stagnant just because you’re dealing with behavior amongst school-age children.”
Laws vary from state to state. In 1999, the first state to pass anti-bullying laws was Georgia, who went on to strengthen their laws in 2010. Today, all 50 states have some laws in place to protect children from being bullied and 42 of those states have guidelines in place for schools to enforce those laws.
Teach Them How to React
Every child reacts to bullying differently. It’s imperative that you help your child know what type of behavior is right, and which isn’t. For example, if your child reacts by getting angry, the problem could become even worse—after all, bullies thrive on fear and anger. They may even find themselves also in trouble for their defense behavior. Teach them how to ignore mean words by paying them no attention. Hurtful words are difficult to handle, but knowing how to walk away and show no signs of emotion is brave.
Teach them various “cool down” strategies, such as counting to ten or repeating mantras in their mind. Consider taking your child to therapy to help them refine these tactics. If the bullying is physical, of course, this requires a more serious level of intervention—in addition to seeking legal counsel and getting the school involved, you and your child might feel comfortable allowing them to take defensive mixed martial arts classes.
Avoid Accidental Blame
Naturally, one of the first things a parent wants to do when they learn their child being bullied is to assess the situation and assign blame somewhere. It’s important that you refrain from accidentally placing blame on the child when this happens. You might accidentally make assumptions like, “Is there something you did to upset them?” Searching too hard for what the child might have done could alienate them further; many children who are bullied already place enough blame on themselves. Instead, give them all the support they need to help alleviate those bouts of self blame.
Keep Them Involved
Once you’ve gathered the details of the bullying that’s occurring, your next move is to plan a course of action. It’s best to keep your child as involved in this process as possible, so that they don’t feel dragged along as you make your decisions. Give them a chance to voice their opinions before you take action as well.
For example, perhaps it’s not always the best decision to take them for a sit-down with bully and his or her parents. Your child might not be ready to face their aggressor in that setting, and it could further exacerbate the situation. And lastly, as your child tells you details about their bullying, remain as calm and collected as possible: fighting aggression with anger doesn’t set a good example.
Talk to the Teacher
As previously mentioned, many schools have stringent guidelines on how to behave when students in their classroom are being bullied. Teachers have a great vantage point on what’s happening in and around the school. In a survey conducted by Stop Bullying, 70% of school staff reported having witnessed bullying in their educational environment. But even when your teacher doesn’t immediately notice the act of bullying as it occurs, they most likely will be able to notice changes in your child’s behavior that could very well be related to bullying.