Parents both of bullies and of victims can be left feeling helpless, unsure of how to best help their children. Maybe you are losing touch with your children and they don't seem to want to talk to you as much these days. Children are masterful at hiding what's going on, so many parents are left unaware of the problems that exist in their children's lives. Here are a few things to look for which may be indicators.1
Is my child a victim?
- are they withdrawn at home?
- have they complained of no friends at school?
- is there a decreased desire to go to school?
- have you noticed a significant decline in grades?
- do they make negative or suicidal statements about themselves?
- are they excessively temperamental?
- do they often complain of having headaches, upset stomach or “just feeling sick”?
Has my child become a bully?
- are they currently a victim of bullying or abuse, or have they been a victim in the past?
- do they deny wrongdoing and shift blame to others?
- are they touchy or irritable?
- have they had consistent problematic behavior at school?
- are there high amounts of household stress or marital troubles?
- are they argumentative and defiant?
Although these factors do not necessarily mean that your child is either a bully or has become a victim, they often present as warning signs to consider, rather than ignoring or minimizing them. Parents play a critical role in the development of their children's view of self. You can help them to figure themselves out in the midst of a confusing and difficult time.
What you can do to help
1. Acknowledge your child's emotions.
A parent can benefit their child by helping them to understand their emotions. “You seem angry, I know that is unpleasant” Simply by acknowledging their emotions, you can help them to feel understood. Knowing that their parent can understand how they are feeling bridges a chasm of communication difference. Victims can believe that their emotions are insignificant. Bullies often act aggressively because of low emotional awareness.
2. Encourage them in developing positive characteristics.
Parents can get stuck only seeing the bad. Take the time to notice your children and what makes them uniquely special. Small comments like: “your hair looks nice today,” or “I love the way your smile brightens a room up.” When your child has worked hard on something take the time to let them know that you notice their efforts. Look for positives wherever they are. The both bullies and victims have difficulty seeing positive things in themselves. Positive reinforcers are actually much stronger than punishments.
3. Talk to the counselor at your local school.
Make them aware of situations that exist and ask for their help. Often the school officials are unaware of the problems that exist in their own schools. Open communication and collaboration between teachers, parents and school counselors can be a powerful positive force for effectively dealing with bullying. If your child is the aggressor, be firm and consistent with them in applying rules also at home. Let them know, lovingly, that this behavior will not be tolerated and set specific consequences for continued behavior.
4. Help them figure themselves out within the family context.
Both bullies and victims suffer from lack of clarity about who they are. The bully, as we mentioned last week, is often a natural leader using their gifts in a negative way. Take the time to listen to your child. If your child believes that you care about them and are willing to empathetically listen and get to know how they see themselves more disposed they are to open up. This takes maintaining an attitude of curiosity and wonder about who your child is, rather than dictating every aspect of who they must be. The hope is to enable them to develop in a God-glorifying way, both as a member of the family and as an individual with particular gifts and abilities, and interests.
5. Seek professional help.
When bullying behavior is allowed to continue for extended periods, children are at an increased risk for criminal and self-destructive behaviors. Victims of bullying, too, can show increased symptoms of depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies. Parents , themselves, can feel overwhelmed with their own problems which makes it even more difficult to attend to their children's lives. If you feel helpless, it is okay to ask for help.