Children teasing each other is a normal fact of life and will always be part of the developmental process. That doesn’t mean that kids can’t be affected by bullying. As a parent, you want to protect your child from bullying, but how do you teach your kids to defend themselves?
What is bullying?
The difference between innocent teasing and more serious bullying is the use of continued aggressive behavior by one or more individuals that makes another person or group feel uncomfortable or threatened. This behavior is repeated over time and is designed to cause physiological and/or psychological harm to the intended target. While statistics are suspected of being underreported in cases of bullying, between 20-50 percent of children admit to experiencing some form of bullying in the past or present. What makes this issue even more challenging for parents is that various types of bullying exist, including physical, mental and now, cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying has become more pervasive due to society’s increasing reliance on technology. Children, who in the past could count on the refuge of home, are now being teased and intimidated on a constant basis by their peers via social media. Many children do not disclose to their family that they are the target of cyberbullying, and some continue to frequent the websites and apps that are the source of their distress.
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What are the consequences of bullying?
Being the victim of bullying can cause many short- and long-term consequences. Children who are bullied are more likely to have increased absenteeism from school. Increased stress can lead to medical complications such as decreased resistance to cold symptoms. Teenagers who are bullied can engage in alcohol or illicit substance use to escape their discomfort. Suicide is a well-known, worst-case outcome for children and adolescents who experience significant bullying in their lives.
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is defined as confidence in one’s own worth or abilities. Self-esteem can offset the effects of bullying while enabling kids to be more successful in all aspects of their lives.
To develop this confidence, it is important to experience success and failure in different activities as the child grows in his or her environment. Parents and other adult figures should model pro-social behavior for the children in their care when participating in activities that involve winning and losing. Teaching children to avoid being “sore winners” or “sore losers” is important to how they will approach success or failure in the future.
Finding the right balance between too much or too little self-esteem is a challenge in itself. Too much praise and encouragement can lead to an individual unable to accept criticism, or exhibiting an inflated sense of self. Too much criticism can ingrain a sense of inferiority, and start a pathway to unfulfilled potential. Learning to find a happy medium of encouragement, discipline and structure is a critical task all caregivers face.
Improving self-esteem is an important way caregivers can assist their children in dealing with negative influences. Self-esteem can be bolstered by correcting irrational, negative thought patterns, such as “I can’t do it” or “I’m not good enough.” Working to recognize and acknowledge the strengths and talents of the children in our care leads to a more positive outlook in their own abilities.
Can my child become bully resistant?
Increasing a child’s successful experiences is one of the most lasting factors parents can use to reduce the impact of bullying. It is important to find opportunities for your children to discover or hone their talents and also create new, positive relationships. Finding ways to empower your kids to deal with life’s stressors will make a lasting contribution to their personal growth.
Caregivers can also help their children by actively listening. This involves creating an atmosphere of trust and understanding in the home. If your children disclose information that might be hard for them to talk about, learn to listen without emotional input, repeat back key information to be sure you are understanding them clearly and work together on specific solutions to their problems. Sometimes the knowledge that your family is there for you can be enough support for a child to solve the situation without paternal involvement.
Other strategies include surrounding your children with positive peers, such as those gained from social organizations or volunteering opportunities. Encourage activities that require physical exertion because exercise is associated with better self-image and improved physical health. Assistance from mental health professionals should be obtained if the consequences of bullying lead to impairment in the child’s ability to function. This could present as poor school attendance, mood symptoms or vague physical complaints.
Protection of our children is a paramount concern for most parents. If you’re concerned about your child’s emotional well-being, call UHealth’s Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Program at (305) 355-7147 for more information.
Ushimbra Buford, M.D., is Program Director in Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at UHealth – University of Miami Health System. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.