Help Kids Deal With Bullying and Stress

Prevent Bullying at School by Preventing It at Home

Build Your Child's Confidence

The better your child feels about himself, the less likely the bullying will affect his self-esteem. Encourage hobbies, extracurricular activities, and social situations that bring out the best in your child. Solid friendships and allies can help your child bear the brunt of a bully as well. Assertive skills and experience with talking about feelings can further enhance self-esteem as children become more comfortable expressing their needs. Tell your child the unique qualities you love about him and reinforce positive behaviors that you'd like to see more. "As parents, we have a tendency to focus on negative situations, but kids actually listen better when their good behaviors are reinforced," Dr. Pastyrnak says. Honoring kids' strengths and encouraging healthy connections with others can affect self-esteem, increase your kids' long-term confidence, and prevent any potential bullying situations.

Teach Coping Skills

If your child is being bullied, remind her that it's not her fault, she is not alone, and you are there to help. It's important for kids to identify their feelings so they can communicate what's going on; therefore, parents should talk about their own feelings. What parents shouldn't do, no matter the child's age, is assume that this is normal peer stuff that will work itself out. "Work with children to give them coping skills," Dr. Pastyrnak says. "Talking and getting things off their chests can be very cathartic. Parents can then help problem-solve how to avoid interactions with somebody or how to be assertive." Try role-playing scenarios that your child may encounter and practice ways to react. Teach her to be a good communicator and make eye contact. "Build emotional intelligence skills and teach the difference between being assertive and aggressive, strong versus mean. Teach kids how to stand up for themselves and how to use 'I' messages such as, 'I don't like it when you do this because it makes me feel sad and I want you to stop,'" Kaplan advises. "It should never be accepted that a child is being picked on or teased." Helping your child deal with a bully will build confidence and prevent a difficult situation from escalating.

Prevent Bullying at Home

Bullying is often an attempt to feel powerful. "If a child has older siblings and has a tendency to be teased at home, there's a higher likelihood that she'll redirect those feelings of aggression and powerlessness at school, toward somebody she perceives as weaker or easily dominated," Dr. Pastyrnak says. "A misconception is that the bully is emotionally disturbed or has problems, but that's not always the case. There are lots of cases where well-adjusted, typical kids wind up in situations where they're treating others inappropriately." It's important to understand why the child is acting in a certain way and what's causing her to feel the need to bully others. Children may resort to bullying when they don't have much choice or control in their lives. Parents should make sure bullying isn't tolerated at home and also let little ones make decisions. If there's a bedtime routine, kids can decide what gets done first and last: reading a book, taking a bath, and brushing teeth. "In school, there's a schedule and kids have to do what the teacher says. At home, it can be difficult for them to be on more schedules. So it's very helpful if a parent gives kids some control over things," Kaplan suggests.

Partner With the School

Communicate with your child's school and report bullying incidences. "You can't expect the school staff to know everything that's going on. Make them aware of any situations," Kaplan says. Though more schools are implementing bullying prevention programs, many still do not have enough support or resources. "Parents and teachers need to be aware and get involved so that they can monitor it appropriately," Dr. Pastyrnak says. "Plus, as more and more young kids have smartphones or social media accounts, cyberbullying increases. Kids are more willing to say awful things when they have anonymity and what they say can be more dramatic than what is typically said face to face at school." Learn how to start anti-bullying and anti-violence programs within the school curriculum.

Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.

Corinne Schuman is a mother and licensed mental health counselor in Washington, DC.

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