eNewsletter - November 2018
Behavioral Health Partners
Bullying: Support for Everyone Involved
By: Jessica Butts, LCSW
Depression, anxiety, loneliness, health issues, sleep and eating changes, decreased academic achievement and school participation—these are just some of the lasting effects of bullying on the 1 in 4 to 1 in 3 students who report being bullied in school. In addition, bullying perpetrators and bystanders are also at risk for academic issues, substance abuse or criminal activity following bullying experiences.
Of kids who are bullied, only about 40 percent report the activity. The experience can leave kids feeling helpless, humiliated, rejected or socially isolated and they may choose to handle the situation alone to regain control or to avoid further bullying events. However, with encouragement to come forward and comprehensive support, victims of bullying are more likely to avoid lasting effects.
Signs of bullying. Stopbullying.com encourages parents, school officials and teachers to look for the following signs that may indicate bullying:
- Unexplainable injuries
- Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
- Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
- Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
- Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
- Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
- Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
- Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide
Dealing with bullying behavior. Once bullying behavior is identified, it is important that adults respond quickly and consistently to ensure it’s understood the behavior is not acceptable. In the moment, adults should stay calm, intervene, ensure safety and separate the children involved. Emergency medical providers or help from the police should be sought if needed.
Once the situation is under control, further investigation and support is required. Perpetrators of bullying would likely benefit from meeting with a therapist to explore more appropriate ways of communicating and expressing their feelings. Evaluation should also occur to determine if the perpetrator is having difficulty coping with stressors in their own life, leading to the bullying behavior.
Supporting the victim. Focus on the victim in the following ways to support them as they recover from the experience:
- Involve the family. Open communication is critical.
- Rally the school community. The more awareness about bullying in general, the greater the ability to improve identification and cessation of bullying behavior in the future.
- Assure the child that bullying is not their fault.
- Ask children what they need to feel safe and secure and work with them to ensure safety.
- Develop assertiveness skills, possibly through role playing, and create a plan for how to react should bullying occur again.
- Provide opportunities to develop relationships and work with students to help them find a safe outlet: an enjoyable activity that promotes feelings of security.
- Promote resilience. Feeling supported helps children recover more quickly.
Helping perpetrators. There are many reasons kids turn to bullying behavior and they require support to end the activity and decrease its long-term effects. Active participation from the school and family, engaging the child in efforts to make amends, and regular follow up helps reinforce understanding that their behavior was wrong and harmful to others, and how to avoid it in the future.
Working with bystanders. Children who witness bullying behavior but don’t act or report it are also at risk. Bystanders should receive support from school and family as well, and be asked to participate in future anti-bullying efforts.
Involving parents. Supporting a bullied child is emotional and stressful. Parents are an essential component of the recovery process and should work closely with the school and mental health professionals. It is important parents understand that bullying should not be ignored, that the bullied child is never to blame and that physically fighting back should be avoided. At times, parents may wish to contact other parents involved, but it’s important to avoid doing so as it can make the situation worse. Working together—school, parents and children—is the most effective way to encourage healing and prevent bullying behaviors in the future.
More resources. While school counselors and social workers can effectively manage bullying situations, other times, students may benefit from the care of a mental health professional. For more information on mental health services or counseling, please call the Linden Oaks Help Line 24 hours a day at (630) 305-5027 for assistance from one of our assessment professionals. Helpful bullying resources—for students, families and professionals—can be found at the University of Buffalo’s Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service website, stopbullying.gov.