The common perception of bullying is that it takes place between two people in a direct confrontation. They imagine the bully making fun of them, insulting them, and then potentially pushing, shoving, or even beating someone else. Perhaps they picture a child being mocked and called names. However, relational aggression, a sort of bullying that sometimes goes unnoticed, is just as destructive.
When youngsters engage in this form of bullying, they intentionally try to isolate or marginalize another child from their social group. Students’ relationship aggression often peaks in junior high and middle school, although it can persist into adulthood. Adults do it all the time, even at work.
When children are bullied, it can be difficult for them to speak up about their experiences. But there are numerous things parents may do to support their children who are experiencing social exclusion.
Experiencing rejection is incredibly painful, and it’s amplified during the formative years when friendships among peers are paramount. Children who are rejected by their peers sometimes experience emotional distress as well as academic difficulties. And if a kid is made to feel inferior, unwanted, or unimportant, that can carry over into adulthood and wreak havoc on their psyche.
“If and when parents believe their child is not succeeding at school, for whatever reason, they need to first and foremost get the school on board to enquire and intervene,” says Siggie Cohen, Ph.D., a child development specialist and counselor with over 35 years of experience. She emphasizes that parents’ reactions and care during these times are crucial.
Dr. Cohen warns parents that while they may be powerless to stop their child from being bullied, they can still do a lot to help if it happens to them. Here are seven strategies to use when supporting a youngster who has been bullied or excluded from school.
Validate Your Child’s Feelings
Make sure your kid can talk to you about anything without worrying about what you might think, Dr. Cohen advises. It’s crucial to listen to your child so they know they’re being heard.
She emphasizes that youngsters can easily feel alone because of their challenges.
Andy Brimhall, Ph.D., LMFT, a therapist and professor at East Carolina University who specializes in marriage and family conflict and child behavioral difficulties, advises that parents should make every effort to avoid accidentally shaming their child for being shunned.
Don’t say things that could be misconstrued as suggesting someone change who they are or work harder to gain acceptance. Dr. Brimhall suggests, instead, emphasizing listening and understanding their feelings.
Tell people that they have something valuable to contribute the world and that they have no right to be treated differently.
Empower Your Child
Help your child understand that he or she can’t change the way other people treat them. Dr. Brimhall believes patients do, however, have some say over how they react.
Help them brainstorm solutions to the problem and find a way to get past the pain that bullying has caused. The objective is to get them to feel like they have control over the situation and can take action, like putting more of their attention on other people or activities.
Although it is essential to give them space to process their emotions, you should work to prevent them from viewing themselves as victims. Though the treatment they received was likely unjust, brutal, and traumatic, they are not doomed to repeat their role as a victim. Give your kid the tools they need to overcome this and make it something they can look back on with pride rather than shame.
Don’t Jump Into “Fix-It” Mode
Dr. Brimhall advises avoiding the temptation to unilaterally assume control of a situation unless doing so is clearly necessary. If you want to help your child, you should listen to what they have to say before offering suggestions.
Instead of immediately intervening to “fix” the problem for them, give them an opportunity to address it on their own.
Help Your Child Make Friends
If you want to stop bullying from happening, one of the finest things you can do is cultivate positive friendships. Having even one close buddy can help mitigate the emotional toll of being socially isolated and rejected by peers. Friendships formed in childhood have been shown to have positive effects on mental health, both immediately and later in life.
Dr. Brimhall recommends actively looking for ways to encourage friendships in your youngster.
Whether it’s at school, church, a sports team, or something else they’re interested in, help them get involved and make friends. Show them that there are other individuals out there besides those who are excluding them. Your kid should stop worrying about those individuals and instead focus on making new friends.
If they have friends outside of the clique of bullies, they may feel much less isolated and alone.
Your child can gain social skills and confidence by participating in after-school activities such as athletics, the yearbook staff, religious or spiritual organizations, or even a reading club. Kids may get some fresh air, exercise, and a mental break by participating in outside activities. You can’t discount the value of extracurricular activities in a child’s development.
Further, youngsters who participate in extracurricular activities have more opportunities to interact with their peers. Having more in-person interactions with others also reduces the demand for social media. Participation in extracurricular activities makes leisure time more productive and helps ground young people in the real world, hence decreasing the likelihood that they would engage in cyberbullying or other detrimental online behaviors.
Improve Your Child’s Social Skills
When youngsters are cruel or unaware, it might isolate one child from the group. Yet children’s lack of social skills can contribute to their being left out. This in no way indicates that you should feel responsible for your child’s social isolation.
The onus of responsibility for their actions still rests with the bullies. Your child’s social discomfort, though, may be compounding the problem.
However, if social awkwardness is a contributing cause, you can help prevent further incidences by coaching your youngster on how to interact with others. Dr. Brimhall also suggests teaching your child coping mechanisms like self-advocacy, stress management, and perspective taking to help them deal with bullying.
As a bonus, you’ll be teaching your kid lifelong good behavior and character characteristics.
Consider Outside Help
A child’s self-esteem can take a hit if he or she is socially rejected.
If your child is having difficulty, it’s best to look for additional resources. Your child’s pediatrician or a counselor can perform a depression evaluation and suicide risk assessment. It’s always reassuring to show your child how seriously you take their health by seeking a second opinion, even if it seems like everything is fine from your end.
Having a friend or relative to talk to, in addition to you, can be a great comfort to your child. Professional counselors or even just a neutral third party might offer a more detached perspective than the person involved. Because of this, they may have insights and recommendations for you to explore.
The benefits of counseling extend beyond simply helping your child feel less helpless.