This article sponsored by CHOC Children’s Hospital
In light of October as National Bullying Prevention Month, I had the opportunity to engage in an extremely eye-opening conversation with Dr. Christopher Min, PhD, a licensed pediatric psychologist at CHOC Children’s about bullying and the mental health effects on children. This is a must-read for all parents! He shares bullying warning signs to watch for, how to talk to your children about bullying, and how seeking professional help can also be life-changing for the entire family.
Bullying Warning Signs
The number one warning signs Dr. Min said to look for are “avoidance behaviors” or when a child expresses not wanting to go to school, activities or other situations they haven’t had a problem with in the past.
The child may start having more stomach-aches or headaches, or you might be alerted to frequent trips to the nurse, often at times like recess or lunch when bullying may be happening.
How to Talk to Your Children About Bullying
I asked Dr. Min for tips on how to talk to your children about bullying and find out what is going on and this was a huge “aha moment” for me.
First, let’s talk about what NOT to do!
The topic of bullying can make parents emotional, and their reactions emotional, driving them to jump immediate “protective, problem-solving mode.” But Dr. Min said reacting in this way is not the best way to get the information and get your child to share more about what is happening.
The #1 important thing parents can do is LISTEN.
Listen, listen, listen and be calm, supportive and thoughtful while gathering information. It is also important to communicate it is not their fault and careful not to place blame or tell them, “You need to stick up for yourself!”
Really listening is the best way to get kids to share more and feel safe sharing with you, especially if they feel they will not be criticized for what they did or didn’t do.
Parents cannot control what the bully does at school or outside the home, but they CAN control a supportive, healing atmosphere at home.
What to Do If Your Child is Being Bullied
Depending on the severity of the situation, and especially if physical bullying is going on, the school should be notified immediately. If the bullying is lesser in severity, like teasing, parents can work with their children to come up with a practical plan on how to deal with the bully.
Dr. Min shared bullies tend to pick on children when they are alone. Making a plan to have your child avoid being alone or seek out a peer group (or position themselves near a teacher or adult) when the bully is present will make it harder for the bully to act out their behaviors.
The more situations or chances the bully gets to exhibit the behaviors, the more they are reinforced and likely to continue.
Having your child remove themselves as much from those situations as possible can help.
When to Seek Professional Help for Bullying
If the bullying persists, and the plan is not working, wonderful therapists are available to help children and families struggling with bullying.
Professional help is recommended if you notice the following in your child:
- Persistent irritable mood
- Anxiety and worry about school
- Trouble concentrating on school work
- Interference with daily functioning, school and/or activities
How a Child Therapist Can Help
A licensed therapist can be a tremendous help for children and families. Today’s mental health treatments for bullying are solution-focused and help give the child tools, skills and coaching on how to deal with the bully. In addition, a therapist can provide additional support and stress management tools to help with the strong emotional ramifications that come with being bullied.
Mental Health Ramifications from Bullying
If left untreated, children that are persistently bullied can struggle with depression or anxiety, act out in unfavorable ways, and in severe cases, bullying can lead to suicide attempts. Bullying is not something that should be ignored or assumed will go away on its own.
A Word About Girls and Bullying
Many people think bullying only happens with boys, but for parents of girls, I was alerted to an eye-opening fact. Dr. Min shared girls at times can be even more aggressive than boys with bullying.
Using exclusion tactics and social humiliation to bully, the emotional abuse can be just as hurtful as physical abuse, especially now days with social media (which is another conversation in itself).
Let’s Talk About Pediatric Mental Health
This generation of parents has a unique opportunity to start the conversation about mental health with our children. No sweeping issues under the rug, or pretending they don’t exist.
Mental health and happiness is just as important as physical health.
As human beings, no one is immune to struggling with mental health issues at times. But when the issues persist and quality of life is affected, there is no reason for a child, or anyone for that matter, to suffer.
Help is available to us to navigate mental health issues with children – the most vulnerable population.
Let’s teach our kids, it’s OKAY to get help. In fact, it is often the right thing to do. I believe in turn we will be raising a happier, healthier future generation.
Click here to learn more about CHOC Children’s mental health programs and services.