Bullying Signs and Keeping the Door Open With Your Kids
By Dru Ahlborg BRRC Executive Director
Most school-aged children are starting the second half of their school year. From my experience as both a Co-Founder and Executive Director of BRRC as well as a mom, I have witnessed that bullying can increase after the holiday break. I have also identified children (not just my own) being very reluctant in talking about what is happening to them. Our oldest child who was tormented in middle-school informed us of his experiences in bite-sized pieces. It took over two years for him to verbalize all the traumas he experienced. This unfortunately is very normal. What follows is an explanation of why children are not always forthcoming with being a target of bullying, signs you should look for that your child is being bullied, and what you can do to make it easier for them to talk with you.
Why Children Don’t Talk About Being Bullied:
Many children won’t tell anyone about being bullied. Often, we at BRRC tell parents that the job of children is to go to school and to succeed in that endeavor. Going to school involves not only academic success, but also socializing and getting along with others. Being a target of bullying can equal to failing at school in the eyes of a child. We know this is not true and that no child ever deserves to be the target of bullying. What follows are several reasons why children may not tell you what is really happening to them at school.
- Shame and Embarrassment. Being the target of bullying will cause them to feel powerless or weak. This in turn can and will create feelings of shame and embarrassment. Many times, bullying involves something that a child is sensitive about and reporting about that can feel worse than the bullying act. Children are bullied because of the way they look, their race, their disability and their sexual or gender expression.
- Fear of Retaliation. Children fear that reporting a bully will not make a difference and/or they feel that they will be subjected to more bullying because of reporting it.
- Concern About Being Believed. Sometimes children that bully are kids that teachers or parents would least suspect. High-status social bullies are very adept of charming adults in charge and pick their targets with great care.
- Failure to Recognize Bullying. Sometimes bullying isn’t easy to witness, especially relational bullying. Spreading rumors, ostracizing others, intense teasing and shunning are all types of bullying that are more subtle and sometimes less easy to label as such.
Warning Signs of Bullying:
As parents and caregivers, we know our kids more than anyone else. It is important to keep an eye out for changes in behaviors. Barbara Coloroso, BRRC board member and parenting expert offers a great list of possible signs your child may be experiencing bullying.
- Shows an abrupt lack of interest in school or a refusal to go to school
- Takes an unusual route to school
- A drop in grades
- Withdraws from family and school activities and wants to be left alone
- Avoids the lunchroom or eats alone
- Is sad, angry, sullen or scared after receiving a call, an email or a social media message
- Does actions out of character
- Uses derogatory or demeaning language when speaking about peers
- Stops talking about their peers or day to day activities
- Disheveled, torn or missing clothing without explanation
- Physical injuries without an appropriate explanation
- Frequent stomachaches, headaches or panic attacks
- Unable to sleep or sleeps too much
- Creates art that depicts severe emotional distress, turmoil or violence
It is important to be alert to the frequency, duration and intensity of any changes.
How to Make it Easier for Kids to Talk About Bullying:
There are things we can do as parents and caregivers to aid in keeping the lines of communication open with our children. Confiding in an adult about bullying can be quite scary and it is our job to make it feel safe.
- Listen, listen, listen. I can’t emphasize this enough. Being a good listener takes practice and a strong intention. Listening entails keeping our mouths shut and if need be, asking open-ended questions. Signe Whitson, author, social worker, and school counselor offers stellar listening advice for parents:
- Give your child complete attention and focus. This includes putting down any technology and turning off any distractions so your child has your undivided attention.
- Give your child good eye contact. Please note that as a child is discussing something as traumatic as bullying, they may not look at you in the eye. It is the responsibility of the adult (listener) to provide the eye contact.
- Be open-minded. Focus on letting your child speak without judgement or assuming you know what they will disclose to you.
- Listen with support and empathy. Affirm to your child that you support them and you honor the strength it takes to talk about the bullying. Empathize that going forward they will not have to carry their burden alone.
- Let your child know that you will come up with ideas and plans together to walk through the bullying. Let them know you are in partnership going forward.
- Be calm.
- Express sympathy. “I am sorry this is happening to you,” can have a profound impact on a child who is a target of bullying.
- Make sure you follow up with your child.
Bullying is an act that makes the target feel isolated and alone. Feelings of self-doubt, humiliation and terror can occur and can cause a child to not want to seek help or report bullying. As adults, it is our job to observe, ask questions, and become partners with them to solve what they are experiencing. Signe Whitson recommends that parents of a bullied child pull out their superhero capes and be prepared to help their child move through and recover from bullying. Our kids our counting on us.
If your child’s school is not stopping the bullying after you have reported it, please contact Bullying Recovery Resource Center (BRRC). We are dedicated to providing resources, education and advocacy needed to stop bullying and stem the long-term effects that bullying has on its targets.