How to Stop Your Child from Being Bullied

How to Recognize and Stop a Bully in Your Child's LifeWelcome to the first of our LV Moms Panel stories brought to you by Dove. What's that, you ask?

Throughout the summer, we'll ask five amazingly accomplished moms to chime in on the topics that are near and dear to all Moms' hearts— like how to stop a bully from harassing your child. 

Meet our moms below, hear what they have to say about their kids' (and their own) experiences with bullying, then get to know them better by joining the discussion here!

The act of bullying has been in the news a lot lately, what with the alleged bullying done by Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney back in his prep school days, and the story of this mom, who was so traumatized over her daughter being bullied that she decided to take matters into her own hands (literally).

For my part, I was in 6th grade when a group of girls in my class decided I didn’t fit in. From the outside, the teasing looked harmless—they refused to refer to me by my given name and instead called me Fred.

I bore it with as much stoicism as possible, but as a socially awkward tween, I finally reached my limit and told my parents about it.

My mom and dad strategized with me, and then bought me a baseball-style T-shirt I coveted and had the name “Fred” spelled out on the back. The day I wore it to school, I took my power back from those girls by appropriating their gimmick—they never called me Fred again.

The modern-day bully can disseminate pain and embarrassment on so many fronts, not only in the schoolyard but also online via Facebook, Twitter, blogs and texting. Because this insidious, 24-hour bullying is often under the radar of parents and teachers, the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach just doesn't seem to cut it anymore.

The Facts

Not surprisingly, one survey found that 73% of parents were not happy with the way other parents in their community handled bullying, even though another survey conducted by the website Education, in partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals, revealed that one out of every three kids is the victim of bullying, and one out of every three kids is a bully.

This can have serious, long-term consequences:

  • According to Harvard Health Publications, kids who are bullied are more likely to skip classes or avoid school altogether, and are also more likely to use drugs or alcohol to numb their pain (And, as we know from this piece, school attendance, motivation and high self-esteem are all tremendously important when it comes to laying the foundation for a financially successful future.)
  • A British study following 6,437 students found that those who were bullied between the ages of 8 and 10 were almost twice as likely to develop psychotic symptoms as teens, and were also more prone to depression than their peers.
  • While it's not the norm, we'd be remiss to avoid mentioning the recent tragedies that have involved cases of bullying, such as the suicide of Rutgers University student, Tyler Clementi.

The side effects of dealing with a bully can even last well into adulthood. "Often what results from bullying is the development of an adult who has poor social skills and is blunted from forming meaningful relationships," says John E. Mayer, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist who practices in Chicago. It's important to set the stage early when it comes to handling bullies, too, he says: "Grown-ups are equally adept at using fear and intimidation to control one another, and the workplace is a fertile ground for bullies."

Those who haven't mastered the ability to fend them off will likely suffer over and over again.

What to Do

We put together four steps you can take if you believe your child might be dealing with a bully.

No. 1: Watch for the Signs

Before you can do anything else, you need to know what bullying looks like, says Danielle Wood, editor-in-chief of Education. She defines bullying as aggressive, intentional behavior that involves an imbalance of strength and power. “Typically, bullying is repeated over time,” Wood says. “The pain and embarrassment of being bullied often causes the victims to hide what is going on, but there are a variety of ways to tell if your child is being bullied.”

Some very clear signs to watch for include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Unusual concern for personal safety 
  • Sadness
  • Aggression
  • Academic problems
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of peer relationships
  • Substance abuse

It’s easy to overlook these symptoms, especially during the teen years, when kids tend to clam up around their parents (although bullying knows no age limits, and often starts as early as elementary school). The effects of bullying can manifest themselves in many different ways. Be on the lookout for:

  • Frequent lost belongings (bullies may be stealing or destroying them)
  • Frequent unexplained injuries and/or damage to clothing and property
  • Spending time with much younger students (which could indicate of problem with peers her own age) 
  • Avoiding recess and/or the playground
  • Changes to sleep habits (too much or too little)
  • Frequent complaints of headaches, stomachaches, etc., with no discernable cause (these could be due to stress, or psychosomatic reasons)

No. 2: Talk About It

Experts agree that if your child exhibits any of these signs or symptoms, the very first thing you should do is talk to him: "There are very specific strategies that can create positive outcomes for everyone involved," says Wood.

  • First, keep your emotions in check so you create a safe place to talk about his experiences. Ask him if there's anything he'd like to share with you that's been going on at school. If he doesn't offer it up right away, come right out and ask if he's being bullied.
  • If he says yes, avoid blaming the bully, and instead remind him that he has a right to feel safe at school, or wherever else he's being bullied. Finally, praise him for having the courage to talk about it, and tell him you're going to work with him–and his school–to solve the problem.
  • Share your own story, if you have one. This can also help your child feel less alone, says Dr. Mayer. “Children who are bullied or teased think that this is only happening to them. This will make being open about the problem feel more okay for your child.”
  • If he maintains that he's not being bullied, but you suspect the opposite is true, approach a teacher or a trusted school authority figure, like a coach, counselor or administrator, and ask that person to observe your child’s peer relationships.

No. 3: Stop the Bully

This is where involving trusted adults comes into play. Woods is in favor of elevating the issue the minute you believe your child has an issue with bullying. "When you're ready to take action, your first step should be to go to your child's teacher or principal to try to resolve the situation," she says.

"The role of adults cannot be emphasized enough," emphasized Dr. Mayer. "It is our responsibility to protect kids from these behaviors."

You can also empower your child to try disarming bullies on his own, which will help him in situations when adults may not be present. “Research shows that most bullies stop aggressive behavior within ten seconds when someone tells them to stop in a strong and powerful voice,” says Wood.

A few other tactics to keep in mind, courtesy of Education, include:

  • Build up his support network. The more chances your child has to interact in a safe environment (like organized sports groups and after school activities), the stronger he'll feel in his own skills. It doesn't hurt that children who have friends are less likely to be bullying victims, either.
  • Encourage your child to stick with friends. It's much easier for a bully to target a child when he is alone. If your child always has a buddy at his side, bullies may be less likely to attack.
  • Monitor his internet activity. If your kid is being victimized by cyberbullies, teach him to bring the issue to an adult as opposed to responding to it himself. And it doesn't hurt for you to keep an eye out either.

No. 4: Stay Vigilant

The good news is, we're more aware of bullying than we were even ten years ago, and we now know that what used to be brushed off as a normal part of growing up has the potential to be much more dangerous. And, as parents, we're the frontline in protecting our kids.

Even after your child’s bullying issue has been resolved, keep your eye and ears open for any relapses.

“Talk with and listen to your kids every day,” advises Woods. “If they feel comfortable talking to you about their peers before they’re involved in a bullying event, they’ll be much more likely to get you involved after.”


Here's what the LV Moms Panel had to say ...

 

Name: Catherine McCord
Accolades: Founder of Weelicious and author of Weelicious: One Family. One Meal. (September 18th)
Children: Kenya (5) and Chloe (3)
What She Had To Say: "I was bullied when I was a kid, and it was unbelievably challenging. It's a horrible feeling to know you have to go somewhere every day (school) and not know when or where you will be harassed. I praise my parents for trying to help me through it and giving me the tools to stand up to other kids bullying me. The more that schools can attempt to have a no tolerance policy for bullying, the easier it will be to curtail it. Having said that, kids can be mean. It's probably the same today as it was 10, 20 and 30 plus years ago. It's just that we talk about it more now."

 

Name: Jenine Holmes
Accolades: Jenine Holmes is author of the blog The Single Baby Mama--Single By Chance, Mother through Adoption. She also balances a marketing writing career with writing author and book interviews for The Brooklyn Rail. Her essays have appeared in The Detroit News, New York Press and AOL, and her commercial work spans from Pepsi to Dr. Scholl's.
Children: Julia (2)
What She Had To Say: "At the age of 2, Julia is just entering the playground/social culture, so bullying hasn't been a big issue for us. Yet. I take these moments of connection with the other children to work on her social skills, sharing her toys and taking turns on the slide, Julia's favorite activity. The other day, as a little boy battled with me before giving back one of Julia's toys on the playground that he had stolen, I thought to myself, 'Man, this is just the beginning.'"

 

Name: Jennifer Perkins
Accolades: Jennifer Perkins is the founder of the blog, book and Etsy store Naughty Secretary Club and is a founding member of the Austin Craft Mafia. Jennifer has worked with HGTV and DIY Network as the host of Craft Lab and co-host of Stylelicious, and is the DIY editor on BlogHer.
Children: Tallulah (3) and Baxter (1)
What She Had To Say: "My son Baxter, who is 15 months old, has a peanut allergy. When we first realized this I did a lot of research on the subject and sadly a lot of what I found talked about how kids with peanut allergies are often bullied. Typically they sit at a special table for lunch at school, they can almost never eat the cake at a birthday party and, depending on the severity of the allergy, it sometimes feels like they need to wear a giant scarlet P on their shirt. We are doing our best to educate both of our kids about peanut allergies. I don’t want Baxter to grow up feeling left out of anything, but I also have to keep him safe."

 

Name: Stacy DeBroff
Accolades: Founder and CEO of Mom Central Consulting, the leading social media consulting firm focused on moms. Prior to this, Stacy authored four best-selling parenting books and launched Mom Central, Inc., a company devoted to providing savvy advice to simplify and enrich the lives of busy moms and their families.
Children: Two teens, Kyle and Brooks
What She Had To Say: "The most important thing is to respond supportively if your child has an experience with bullying, and to send the message that you are there for him, you believe him and he is not alone in this struggle. The best thing you can do is make family and home a refuge, where your child feels accepted and loved."

 

Name: Neale Godfrey
Accolades: Neale is the Chairman of Children’s Financial Network. She was one of the first female executives at The Chase Manhattan Bank, and later, the president of The First Women’s Bank and founder of The First Children’s Bank. In 1989, Neale formed Children’s Financial Network, Inc. to educate children and parents about money. She is the author of 26 books on money, life skills and value issues.
Children: Neale has two children, Kyle, age 29, and Rhett, age 26. She also has two grandchildren, Gavin, 4 years old and Bodhi, 18 months.
What She Had To Say: "I remember when my daughter was bullied about money. She was out with a group of friends, and when it came time for the check, someone said, "You pay for it, you’re rich." She felt bullied and embarrassed and picked up the check. My advice for her was that if this came up again to say, 'That doesn’t make me feel good, and by the way, it’s not my money, it’s my mother's, and I don’t know if you're my friend because of that. Let’s pick a restaurant that we all can afford and we can split the tab.' She tried it the next time and it worked."



Keep the conversation going on the LV Moms Discussion board.