What to do if your child is bullied

Mom comforting daughter

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Statistics show approximately one in five students in the U.S. have experienced bullying and 70 percent of youth say they have seen bullying in their schools. Being bullied may have negative consequences for a child, leading to poor school performance, low self-esteem, anxiety and even depression.  It’s important to take bullying seriously and not just brush it off as something that kids have to “tough out.”

Isabel Rodriguez-Duncan, clinical operations manager and clinician at the Center for Children and Families shares bullying warning signs and tips on what parents can do if they think their child is being bullied.

Warning signs 

  • Torn, damaged or missing pieces of clothing, books or other belongings.
  • Unexplained cuts, bruises and scratches.
  • Seemingly afraid of going to school, walking to and from school, riding the school bus or avoiding activities with peers (such as clubs).
  • Taking long, “illogical” route to school when walking.
  • Losing interest in school work or suddenly beginning to do poorly in school.
  • Appearing sad, moody, teary or depressed when he or she comes home.
  • Complaining frequently of headaches, stomachaches or other physical ailments (particularly in the morning).
  • Having trouble sleeping or has frequent bad dreams.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Appearing anxious and suffering from low self-esteem.
  • Not bringing classmates or other peers home after school and seldom spends time in the homes of other classmates.
  • Not having a single close friend to share free time with and rarely invited to parties.
  • Not showing interest in arranging parties themselves because they expect no one will come.

How to help your child

  • Report the incident. The most important thing you can do to help your child is to report the incident. Schools in Florida are required to initiate an investigation within 24 hours after receiving a report. Make sure to obtain as many details as possible about the incident from your child and contact the school to set up an appointment in person.
  • Praise your child. It takes a lot of courage to come forward, so if your child reports bullying to you, praise him/her for doing the right thing. Let them know that it is not his/her fault and that you will figure it out together.
  • Problem-solve with your child. Help your child brainstorm solutions on how he/she can confront a bully. Ask your child questions like, “What do you think you can say next time?” or “What might happen if you say/do that?” Prompting them to problem-solve will make your child feel empowered and in control.
  • Practice assertiveness. Once you help your child come up with appropriate answers when confronting a bully, help your child practice speaking in a strong, firm voice. Getting upset or crying will only encourage a bully. Your child may say something like, “Stop bothering me,” or “I won’t play with you if you act mean.”
  • Teach safety strategies. Help your child identify trustworthy adults he/she can go to for help when they feel threatened. If your child thinks he/she may be in danger when being confronted by a bully, it is a better strategy to run away and seek help immediately. Bullies like getting a reaction from their target, so do not encourage physical retaliation. Also, teach your child to buddy up with another child, so that he/she is never alone during vulnerable moments like recess.
  • Restore confidence. Have your child undertake some type of physical training or engage in positive extracurricular activities to enhance confidence. Also, encourage your child to make more contact with a friendly student in class or spend more time with close friends that have a positive influence.
  • Stay involved. It is essential that you supervise your child’s activities outside of school to monitor what he/she does and who your child’s friends are. Most unwanted activities including bullying tend to take place when the parents do not know what the child is doing or when adults are absent.

Rodriguez-Duncan also reminds parents that the Florida Department of Education law requires all school districts in Florida to have a policy prohibiting bullying and harassment of students and staff on school grounds, school-sponsored events and school computer networks. They are also required to have an anonymous reporting box on school grounds. There are anonymous reporting forms that can be submitted by students, parents/guardians, volunteers or visitors.

For more information on local school bullying and harassment policies, visit Miami-Dade County Public Schools‘ and Broward County Public Schools‘ websites.