Being the victim of a bully can take a severe toll on a child. There are intense feelings like anger, helplessness, sadness, shame and fear to process and accept. There’s also the stress that comes with the aftermath of the difficult event, including having to deal with authority figures who want to know more about what happened, and peers who sometimes choose to tease and ridicule. Bullying and mistreatment can even be so traumatic,that the effects are felt for weeks, months or even years – in some cases, decades!
Do you have a child who has experienced bullying or mistreatment? Consider the following tips:
Emphasize That it’s Not Your Child’s Fault
Bullying and mistreatment are the result of a perpetrator choosing to act aggressively against a less strong individual. Any aggressor has problems – the person hurts others because of their own psychic pain. Explain this to your victimized child (in an age-appropriate way) just to help the child shake feelings of personal responsibility for their abuse. Kids need to know that abuse isn’t their fault.
Help Your Child Vent
As mentioned, surviving bullying and mistreatment can create many unpleasant emotions in a child. These emotions are normal, and should be affirmed by a parent or a caregiver. Saying that “you’ll get over it” or “you’re overreacting” or “toughen up” will just force a child to repress what he or she is feeling, instead of getting it out and moving on. If you want to help your child bounce back from a negative experience, give him or her the opportunity to express their fear, rage, helplessness and loss. Use Emotional Coaching – naming the child’s feelings – to help the child express and clear feelings (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe, for more information on Emotional Coaching).
Sometimes kids who are victimized ruminate about their inability to fight back. These thoughts can become obsessions that become anxieties. One way parents can help their child recover from their feeling of helplessness and self-blame is to role play what they want but didn’t or couldn’t do to their bully. For example, did they want to scream and fight back? Do they fantasize about telling the bully off? Let them paint a verbal fantasy of what they wish they would have done or what they’d like to do now – don’t worry about how violent it may sound. Imagination can help release violent feelings in a safe, harmless way. If, however, you notice that your child is actually talking about taking revenge in the real world, do step in and warn him of the potential negative consequences. Help your child identify with “good guy” characters rather than villains. Make up stories for him or ask your librarian for help in selecting books that will model the right attitudes and behaviors in the face of victimization.
Affirm Your Child’s Strength
If bullying has weakened your child’s self-concept, try to give your youngster extra “strengthening” experiences. For instance, enroll your child in sports or self-defence arts to build a strong physical self-image. This will help put a protective aura around your child so that bullies won’t be so tempted to pick on him. Or, enroll your child in drama classes so that he can experiment with and find different aspects of his personality that he can call upon when he needs to. Most importantly, make sure no one at home is bullying your child with forceful discipline or name-calling; if your child gets used to being treated badly, he wears an invisible energetic sign that virtually invites others to mistreat him (and troubled kids are all too willing to comply). Your child may also benefit from assertiveness training or special anti-bullying classes, art therapy or play therapy. Other types of psychotherapy can also help your child process the pain of his experience and learn skills that will help him become more “bully-proof” in the future.