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What To Do When Your Child is Being Bullied
According to Shenghua et al., following a recent study involving over 1600 children at ten schools in Wuhan, China, bullied children will adopt one of the following coping strategies: help-seeking, avoidance and self-defense. They continue by saying that victimization affects the likelihood of the bullied child seeking help. This is a strategy that, according to them, results in the least amount of depression. Without external support, it’s almost impossible for the child to overcome the traumatic ramifications caused by bullying altogether.
Thankfully, no one I knew had ever been subject to bullying – that’s what I thought, at least. An older friend of mine once told me that the worst kind of racist remark often starts with, “I am not racist but-.” Then, suddenly, memories began to flood my consciousness.
I was not bullied, but. Why I did not consider the many episodes that came to mind as bullying?
I am autistic, so I think differently from the norm. I am also mixed race, so I look different. Said differences should have made me an easy target. I realize that establishing meaningful friendships – ones that are still going strong after some decades – may have been what shielded me from trauma. Being surrounded by good friends meant that I was supported, even if someone had picked on me for one reason or another. This love and support stopped me from ever victimizing myself.
Because of this, the number one thing we can do for your children is to be there for them. Depending on the intensity of the bullying, you may or may not want to speak to the other child’s parent or the school. However, I find it is essential to learn how to deal with bullies because, as you probably already know, bullying doesn’t stop once you graduate. Providing your child with love and support will give them the confidence and resilience to move on.
How do you talk about bullying with your children?
A great way to open up conversations about bullying with your children is to share your own experiences and remind them that even the worst moments have an end. One of my children has much darker skin than the other. A joke about skin color was made at the expense of the more tanned child, and tears and shouting followed. I immediately went to hug my child and tell him that I could relate to his pain because I, too, have darker skin than most of my friends. I told him that it was a poor joke and continued to talk about our shared experience. The conversation that followed proved to be cathartic enough to bring a smile back to his little face.
By being open yourself, you ensure that your child feels comfortable coming to you in the event of bullying. I encourage you to invest as much energy as possible in creating a strong line of communication. As I said, I never felt the need to go beyond my peer group for support. This may have been because I didn’t feel comfortable speaking to either of my parents, though. I made sure that this pattern would not repeat with either of my children.
Not all children may know how to articulate their feelings, especially after an unpleasant experience. Art – including drawing, music or writing – has been known to help kids express themselves in ways spoken words couldn’t.
We are all different people. I would be surprised if someone told me there is a one-size-fits-all strategy to respond to bullying. Still, I would be equally surprised if someone told me that being there for them, showing them how you reacted when in a similar situation and making sure that they can talk to you about the bullying is not a good starting point.
It’s simple but not always easy, and nobody loves your children as you do. They know it, which means so much already.
Xie S, Xu J, Gao Y. Bullying Victimization, Coping Strategies, and Depression of Children of China. J Interpers Violence. 2022 Jan;37(1-2):195-220. DOI: 10.1177/0886260520907361. Epub 2020 Mar 4. PMID: 32129136.