How to deal with bullying in children and teens

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Parents have to deal with so many issues as their children grow up, such as confidence and self-esteem issues to creating and fostering a healthy environment for conversations.

Bullying is an issue that cuts through both of those issues and create a dynamic that has your child on edge. The problem is that often times, parents don’t even know their child is being bullied. About 20 percent of kids report being bullied. So, how do parents deal with this?

Dr. Corey Boothe with Valley Health recently sat down with us to help guide parents seeking advice on how to navigate a bullying situation.

Boothe says parents who have concerns should monitor changes in their child’s behavior. Many of these changes are subtle at first, such as a child isolating themselves more or appearing to be more anxious.

“Then there are more severe things -- any unexplained injuries, bruising, that sort of thing might be an indication, but then you also start to become concerned about things like self harm. So observing those types of things might be certainly an indication that parents should be concerned or start to ask questions,” Boothe said.

The definition of bullying might also not be clear for many parents. Boothe says, for example, teasing, which many kids and teens might actually describe as “pleasant interactions,” can easily be confused with bullying. It’s vital to understand the difference.

“With bullying, there’s a power difference -- whether that’s real or perceived,” Boothe said. “That’s very important to keep in mind. Then there’s harm being caused. So the person that is being targeted is experiencing this as stressful whether that’s emotionally or physically. And then bullying oftentimes is repeated. That’s one of the things that again, can be a very big indicator, something that’s recurring.”

So, how do parents get their children to open up about bullying? It starts with trust and communication, according to Boothe.

“And so one of the ways we can build that trust that will encourage those conversations is by having regular conversations that maybe we haven’t had to do before. We use open questions. How was your day? What was something that wasn’t nice about your day? What was something that was not great about your day? What might you do differently? If something were to happen similar the next day, and then that encourages our kids to be more open with our parents,” Boothe said.

If you to suspect your child is being bullied, then Boothe says its wise to access behavioral health services so the child may learn to manage their feelings.

“You might go to your pediatrician, you might schedule an appointment, and then that conversation you might ask to speak to a behavioral health provider, which most of the time we can provide that service in the form of what we call a warm handoff. And this is something where the pediatrician would bring one of us in and introduce us and we might do have a quick conversation about what’s been going on. And then we’re able to discuss a plan with both the child and the parent about how we might want to follow up outside of that,” Boothe said.

At the end of the day, talking to your child about anything remains paramount as a parent. Building trust creates healthy relationships and may well be the difference in a child who is able to successfully navigate a bullying situation and one who can’t.

Valley Health