How to help your child deal with a bully

Is your child being bullied?

Teasing and name-calling are all a part of growing up. However, when the abuse gets out of hand and personal or worst yet, borders on physical threats, it can traumatise a child. Studies have found a link between childhood bullying and high risk of depression, low self-esteem and poor school performance.

According to Dr Vanessa von Auer, a clinical psychologist and director of VA Psychology Center, children bully because they want to be in control and feel powerful over someone. Their victims include “easy targets” – those who are physically smaller in size, thinner or have a physical deformity. Children who are shy, quiet and excel academically are also at risk of being tormented.

How can you tell if your kid is being bullied?

Most kids won’t openly tell you what’s going on, but it can manifest in other ways. If you suspect something is up with your child, Dr von Auer suggests keeping an eye out for the following red flags:

• Refusing to go to school or showing symptoms of anxiety prior to leaving, such as complaining of aches and illnesses.

• Withdrawing from the family and holing up their room.

• Refusal to discuss their day at school or a teary breakdown when asked about it.

• A decline in their academic results.

• Unexplained injuries like bruises and scratches.

• A change in eating habits — either eating too much or too little.

• Disturbed sleep: Nightmares, difficulty falling and staying asleep or in some cases sleeping more.

• Avoiding social situations and keeping away from friends.

What you should do

If left unchecked, bullying could lead to devastating emotional scars that one may never recover from. A recent study published by the JAMA Psychiatry journal has revealed that little ones who are bullied are at higher risk for depression as adults. Dr von Auer recommends five ways to approach the situation:

EDUCATE your child on what’s bullying, what it looks like and why it happens. Often children aren’t even aware of what’s happening to them and that it’s wrong.

BULLY-PROOF your child by teaching him how not to be an “easy target”. Teach assertive body language versus insecure body language and how to shut a bully up with smart comebacks. Also teach him safe ways to get away from a bully and get help.

DO NOT ALLOW your emotions to take over when your child tells you about being bullied, as this may make your little one hesitant to talk to you about such incidents to avoid getting you upset. Listen attentively and demonstrate empathy (say something like “That is a terrible and unacceptable thing he/she did to you” or “I’m sorry it happened to you…”).

REPORT the bully and any incidents to the authorities such as the school principal, discipline master or even the police. If your child is old enough, encourage him report the bully as this also teaches him that unacceptable behaviour will result in consequences, plus it also gives him a sense of control over the situation.

HELP YOUR CHILD recover from the ordeal by focusing on his positive qualities and accomplishments. Don’t encourage negative self-talk or self-criticisms. You could also enrol him in an enrichment class (self-defence, acting, sports or other forms of self expression) as this might make him feel good about himself while expanding his repertoire.