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How to Help a Child Who Is Being Bullied

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines bullying as “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths, who are not siblings or current dating partners, that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social or educational harm.” Children as young as age 2 may begin using aggressive or early bullying behaviors to defend their friendships and toys.

Military Crisis Line

If you or a child needs help immediately, contact the Military Crisis Line. Experts are available 24 hours a day. Call 800-273-8255 and press 1 or text 838255.

Children and teens can be bullied any place where they are vulnerable or in places they cannot easily leave — school hallways, stairwells, classrooms and cafeterias, playgrounds, bathrooms, locker rooms and school buses.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, one in five students ages 12-18 experience bullying. Boys have more incidents of physical bullying while girls have more occurrences of relational bullying — being excluded from activities on purpose or being the subject of gossip and rumors.

Children and youth who are targets of bullying are more likely to experience difficulties with schoolwork, eating disorders and obesity, and anxiety and depression. The stress and frustration of being bullied may even cause children to act out against others.

Military children face unique life challenges. Frequent moves can result in a lack of an established community and extended family support, and deployments and concerns for parent safety may lead to added anxiety and stress. This could result in an increased risk of military children being bullied. Quickly addressing concerns about bullying benefits everyone involved.

Signs your child is being bullied

Children react in different ways when being bullied. Early warning signs may include children saying that other children or groups of children are being mean, do not like them, are gossiping or making hurtful comments or perhaps manipulating them in some way. In addition to these comments in conversation, be on the lookout for changes in behavior. A child who is being bullied may experience one or more of the following:

  • Unexplainable physical injuries such as bruises, cuts and scratches
  • Frequent headaches and stomachaches
  • Increased mood swings, tears and tantrums, or aggressive or unreasonable behavior
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Declining grades or a lack of interest in attending school or social functions
  • Changes in eating patterns, including loss of appetite, overeating or coming home from school hungry
  • Lost or damaged clothing or possessions, including schoolbooks, electronics, money and jewelry

It’s okay for parents to step in when they see changes in behaviors, moods or how their children talk about friends. Take steps to engage with your children to get to the root of their worries.

How to establish consistent and open communication with your child

Keeping a pulse on your child’s social and school environment could help keep unwanted behaviors and situations from escalating. The foundation for helping your child begins with establishing a nurturing home environment early on:

  • Talk to your children about how to treat others and how they should expect to be treated.
  • Share with them the importance of identifying trusted adults they can turn to — in school and during extracurricular activities.
  • Set up a time each day to share about school.
  • Discuss the best and worst moments of their day. Ask how these situations made them feel.
  • Pay close attention to who your child spends time with and be aware of changes to friend groups.
  • Strive to make yourself available for conversation whenever your child is with you — in the car, before dinner, at bed time. Let them know that they can come to you to talk whenever they need to.

How to help a child being bullied

If you’re concerned that your child may be getting bullied, there are several tools and resources to help you explore the situation and address the unwanted behavior:

  • Ask specific questions to gain a better understanding about school and social situations. Examples include:
    • Who do you socialize with on the bus/at lunch/during recess?
    • Do you sit with the same children every day? If your friends aren’t around, is there anyone else you would hang out with?
    • Does anyone get picked on or called names on the bus, at recess, in the halls or in restrooms? Has this ever happened to you?
    • Do you feel safe? If not, where do you feel unsafe?
  • Listen to their answers and acknowledge any difficult situations. Ask if they would like your help with the situation. This choice offers them a feeling of control in a situation in which they believe there is no control. Let them know your help could include talking to a teacher, engaging the parents of the bullying child or brainstorming ways for them to solve the problem on their own.
  • Be sure they understand where they can turn for help if someone or something is bothering them — at home, at school or on the bus. This includes other trusted adults if you are not available, whether it be a teacher or counselor at school or a bus driver if they are off school property.
  • Equip them with the necessary skills to deal with bullies. Consult resources such as StopBullying.gov, which is aimed at helping children, youth and adults deal with bullying behavior. You can also get ideas and help from Bullying is a Pain in the Brain.
  • Encourage your child to reach out to Military Kids Connect. A strong social support system is very valuable during challenging times, and this online community offers health and wellness, relationship and emotional support, and connection. The website also offers information, tools and resources for parents.
  • Engage with fellow students through the Youth Sponsorship Program at your installation’s youth center. Your school liaison or youth programs director can connect your child to youth programs staff and children of the same age to help widen their social support network.

In addition to partnering with children to help them feel more in control of certain situations, children should understand that there may be times when you need to act more assertively to advocate for them — especially for children who have been injured, assaulted or robbed. It’s important for children to understand that those acts against them are unacceptable and that you may need to involve teachers and administrators to help resolve the matter. If bullying behavior has escalated, you can:

  • Consult with their school’s administration if the bullying occurs during school hours, on school property or on the school bus. Administrators are required to protect the identity of students.
  • Contact your local school liaison. School liaisons can help you find the resources you need. For younger children, these resources include Trevor Romain’s transition materials and Sesame Street for Military Families wellness information. For older children and teens, your school liaison can make youth sponsorship referrals and offer conflict resolution support and alternative schooling options. Before making your PCS move, have your school liaison help you and your children make a school selection that factors in the clubs, sports and religious activities important to your child. School liaisons can also connect children to the new organizations prior to the move to ensure a smooth transition.
  • Connect to counseling resources for you and your child through community members such as guidance counselors, pastors and other religious leaders, therapists and doctors. Learn more about seven counseling options for service members and their families through Military OneSource.
  • Explore children and youth counseling services, also available through Military OneSource. Licensed counselors can help with changes at home, communication and relationships at home and school, and behavioral issues. You can also contact your installation’s Military and Family Support Center and ask to be connected to child and youth behavioral counselors near you. Your child may appreciate having a supportive, unbiased adult with whom to discuss the situation.
  • Contact the Military Crisis Line immediately if your child exhibits self-destructive behavior, including talk of suicide. Experts are available 24 hours a day. Call 800-273-8255, then press 1. You can also start a conversation via an online chat or text 838255 from your phone or mobile device.

With so many social interactions taking place on electronic devices, your child may also experience cyberbullying. Take the time to understand what cyberbullying is and how you can help children who have become targets of electronic threats and aggression.

Talk openly with your children about social relationships and bullying, share age-appropriate information with them, stay in tune to their social landscape and support them as they deal with difficult situations. Whenever you need assistance, Military OneSource can help. Call 800-342-9646, find OCONUS dialing options or start a live chat.

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