October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a time of year that is meaningful to Jennifer Arnold, M.D., medical director of the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital simulation center. She was born with a rare form of dwarfism and faced daily challenges as a little person growing up. Today she is an anti-bullying activist and encourages families to embrace adversity while joining her fight against bullying.
“It’s important for parents to understand that bullying is a major life situation and can make kids feel like an outcast,” Arnold explains. “Children and teens may keep these encounters inside and not tell anyone, so it’s crucial we stay vigilant when it comes to monitoring our children’s behavior and take action if we notice any red flags.”
Johns Hopkins All Children’s mental health experts share signs that your child is being bullied:
- Poor school performance
- Friend and activity withdrawal
- Lack of enthusiasm, energy, or motivation
- Overreaction to criticism
- Poor self-esteem or guilt
- Poor concentration or forgetfulness
- Changes in eating or sleep
- Substance abuse
- Problems with authority
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
Melissa Faith, Ph.D., ABPP, a pediatric psychologist at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, offers these tips:
1. Encourage friendships
As a parent, you know where your child fits into their school’s social structure. If your child is at risk of being bullied, having at least one close friendship can protect them from psychological harm. Consider arranging sleepovers, get-togethers, and activities with friends outside of school. If your child has high social status, encourage them to stand up for children who are bullied.
2. Create a culture of inclusion
Help your child understand his or her feelings and why other people may feel differently by labeling emotions, talking about emotions, and letting your child know that negative emotions are okay to talk about in your home. .
3. Support extracurricular activities
Mastering at least one specialty area can help protect against the long-term negative impacts of chronic bullying. Cooperative, team-based activities also can help foster social skills and provide opportunities for your child to build friendships with other children who have similar interests.
4. Get involved in your child’s school
Every Florida school district is required to have a written policy for managing bullying. If your child has been bullied:
- Make a written request asking for an investigation.
- Schedule a meeting with school personnel to ask questions, make specific requests, and jointly create a written action plan.
- Schedule a follow-up meeting about a month later.
5. Find security against cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is different from other bullying because bullies can remain anonymous and it can be harder for parents to be aware of online/phone activities.
- Set up social media accounts with your child. Know their passwords and inform your child that you will occasionally login to their social media accounts.
- For young children, consider placing controls on devices to limit what your child can access.
6. Don’t be afraid to seek help
If your child is a victim of bullying, or if your child is a bully, help is available. Talking to a mental health professional can give your family tools and support.