Parents of victims of bullying might feel anxiety, anger, or frustration from wondering how it could happen when their child seems fine, and there haven’t been problems reported otherwise. Although the urge to react seems feasible upon learning someone is hurting your child – being a “mother bear” might be an understatement for many of us – it only adds fuel to the fire, adding to your child’s stress and possibly deterring them from talking to you about it, thus empowering the bully.
At the other end of the spectrum, embarrassment, frustration and anger might be some of the emotions the parents of a child bullying another child might feel. “Not my child,” they may say. Or they may believe it’s just kids being kids. Ideally, parents with children in either role will take the stressful issue of bullying seriously, and plan constructive ways for everyone to cope with it.
If your child is being bullied the stress may be prevalent. Be aware of risk factors, which according to a study by the National Crime Prevention Centre (NCPC) include, “anxiety, sensitivity, withdrawn behaviours, low self-esteem and few friends.” Respond to the situation in a calm and assertive manner – the kind of pro-active response you want to see in him or her.
According to NCPC, protective factors such as “self-esteem, competence and optimism, can be fostered and nurtured, where the child’s family, school and social life are positive and supportive of the child’s social and academic development.” Community networking and providing extra curricular activities can help build esteem and widen the support system.
Family communication is also essential. The Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) indicates, regular conversations about feelings, concerns and daily life is essential. They add, “Having regular conversations can help a family work together to better understand and address any stressors children are experiencing.”
If your child is exhibiting aggressive behaviors introduce different ways of interacting. Use this situation to model how to handle social matters constructively, using positive interpersonal skills, such as empathy, for conflict resolution. Practice different ways of coping with stressful situations to avoid negative patterns of managing stressors from becoming too deeply ingrained, and as a means to prevent some of the risk factors.
Factors that put children with aggressive behaviors at risk include, “persistent negative attitudes and early aggressive behaviour, and little empathy for their victims and show little or no remorse for their actions,” indicate the NCPC. Risks also include lack of emotional control, poor social skills and conduct problems.
Families may contribute to risk factors in ways such as harsh or inconsistent discipline, being cold, unsupportive, using aggression or lack of communication for problem solving, instability, and neglect or abuse, according to the CAMH.
The CAMH suggests, protective factors include discipline that is firm, fair and consistent, comforting and secure attachments, involvement of caregivers, supervision and stability. They add, “If a parent is unable to fill this role, other significant adults in young people’s lives (such as a grandparent or family friend) could provide them with the attention, guidance and support they need.” Children also need to know they are loved, regardless of their behavior, in addition to social support, extracurricular activities and opportunities to achieve success.
Bullying doesn’t have to last forever. Regardless of the roles children engage in, the CAMH indicates, “Everyone needs skills and supportive people in their lives to help cushion them from problems they may encounter; changing a few elements can shift the balance and help them flourish.”
Cheryl Patterson has a B.A. in Psychology and has researched the area of stress for over ten years. For more on Cheryl visit www.cherylpatterson.ca.