It’s estimated about two out of ten children get bullied. Bullying is defined as an unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. It can cause lasting issues for both the victims and the bullies themselves.
Dan Marullo, PhD is a child psychologist at Children’s of Alabama. He says it’s important for parents to be in tune with what is going on in their child’s life so they can help recognize when a child is being bullied versus when they’re dealing with regular conflict.
Marullo identifies four different types of bullying:
While physical aggression is a type of bullying most adults think of, Marullo says cyberbullying is becoming much more prevalent through phones and social media. Social bullying involves isolating children and excluding them from certain activities. Verbal bullying is more emotional and involves name calling or continuous teasing.
How should a parent respond if they believe their child is the victim of bullying? Marullo says it all depends on the circumstances. “You want to teach your children how to cope and deal with conflict,” he says. “But you also want to protect your child if there’s a need to step in, certainly if it’s systematic or physical.”
“So when does it get to be a problem?” Marullo asks. “Anytime you see a systematic behavior, then it’s a problem. Certainly, if you’re seeing an ongoing issue and signs of struggle,” he says. Signs of bullying can include:
Change in sleep habits
Change in appetite
Change in behavior
Withdrawal from activities they enjoy
While physical bullying can be especially alarming to a parent, it’s important not to overlook the pain that emotional bullying can cause. Marullo says constant teasing and exclusion can be very painful for a child and parents may need to take steps to ensure the school is aware of the situation.
He also recommends parents help their child build self-esteem. “Make sure your child is in an environment they can feel good about to build their self-esteem in a real way,” he says. “Being engaged in things that are meaningful for the child and the family are important like church, sports, or the arts.”
Parents can play an important role in helping their child navigate conflict. Provide a listening ear to hear about their day, but also encourage children to talk about the positive things that are happening in their life. If a parent has concerns, they can always talk to their pediatrician or a child psychologist for additional help.