Bullying is happening all around us. It is happening right now. It is happening to some child who is struggling to function under all the weight of being bullied. A child who was previously happy is now being forced to put on a “thick skin” in order to survive. What effects does this have on children? How can they cope?
When a child is bullied, they are in pain. When they are physically bullied, the bullying can be seen and maybe stopped. But what of the emotional or verbal bully? What about bullying through exclusion? What about the child that battles with the pain and loneliness of these invisible methods of bullying??
This kind of bullying really alters a child’s way of being in the world. It is significant. The child can become sad, depressed, angry, hurt and disillusioned. This disillusionment can have severe effects on the child and on that child’s future. When a child is hurt, they can generally heal. But what about chronic hurt? What about the child that is bullied by a personality disorder parent? Invisible! What about the child who is verbally and emotionally bullied every day at school? Invisible.
The anti-bully programs are a good start. But let’s be honest, they do NOT stop bullying. Many times, the bullying is just covered up better by the person who bullies. Children who suffer through this are affected in many ways. They harden their hearts in an effort to survive this. They isolate themselves. They become bullies themselves toward a weaker person. They turn to drugs and alcohol to deaden their pain. And sometimes, they kill themselves.
What happens inside of those children? They hurt. They cry. They want help but when bullying is invisible–such as verbal, emotional, or by exclusion, often times it goes unrecognized. Or it may be recognized and the victim may be told that it isn’t “that bad” or it is “no big deal” or even to “just ignore it”. But the effects are not easy for the victim to ignore. When the bullying is ignored or minimized–the child loses hope and faith. They are victims who lose their sense of safety. Not only are they being assaulted—but it is being minimized to them. When parents and institutions minimize this–it sets the victim up for a cascade of problems. Not only dealing with the victimization–but carrying the heavy load alone.
“Meta-analyses1,2 have clearly demonstrated the negative relationship between peer victimization and mental health as well as physical health. Common elements in definitions of peer victimization include the repeated nature of harassment, an imbalance in power between bully and victim, and the intention to cause harm on the part of the perpetrator” according to the study done by Jama Relationship Between Peer Victimization, Cyberbullying, and Suicide in Children and Adolescents . The outcome showed “Peer victimization is a risk factor for child and adolescent suicidal ideation and attempts. Schools should use evidence-based practices to reduce bullying.”
But what to do to help the victim in the mean time? First, LISTEN to your child. Do not minimize the threat or the emotions involved. Make sure they know that the bullying isn’t their fault but it is the person who is bullying who is at fault. Work with your child to find ways to stop the bullying by modeling responses; by contacting the school; and by strengthening their coping skills. Remember that children may have a difficult time talking about this so be sensitive to your child’s moods; ask questions; and listen to your child when they talk to you. They may be reaching out for help but not know how to do it. Being bullied carries a stigma that children instinctively know. Approach your child with love and acceptance.
Never underestimate the pain your child is in when they are bullied. Know that it is serious and can leads to serious problems for your child. Be smart. Be open. Be loving and supportive. And don’t hesitate to contact a professional for help. Your child’s life may depend on it. Get input from your child as to what they think might help stop the bullying. Then do what you can to make this happen for your child. Talk to the school and get a plan in place to stop the bullying. And finally, seek counseling support if necessary to give your child an outlet for his feelings in a safe and accepting environment.
(Be sure to first interview the therapist and be sure they are a good fit for your child and for your circumstances. Working with a therapist who specializes in working specifically with children is a good place to start)