NJ psychologist’s do and don’ts for dealing with school bullies
Back-to-school time can mean back to bullying for some.
Bullying has become way too common among children in our New Jersey schools, experts say, and it has a severe impact on a child's social and emotional development.
Dr. Steven Tobias, child psychologist and director of the Center for Child and Family Development in Morristown, says a lot of times kids hide the fact that they are being bullied. They feel embarrassed, blame themselves and worry about the repercussions.
He says bullying can be a very devastating experience for children. But there are emotional and behavioral signs a parent should look out for if they think their child is being bulled.
Avoidance is a big sign. "They don't want to go to school, they're sick, they make up excuses for not attending," says Tobias.
They will also avoid social activities where the bully may be present, he adds. There's also social withdrawal in which the child is worried the bully may have influenced his or her friends.
Another sign of bullying is change in behavior. Tobias says be on the lookout for a change in eating, sleeping, activity level and even a change in grades. In general, you see an increase in depression and anxiety and a decrease in self-esteem as a result of the bullying.
Tobias says in extreme cases there can be physical signs such as bruises, aches and pains.
Tobias says the first step a parent should take if they find their child is being bullied is to empathize with the child. "Provide emotional support for the child and help the kid really feel heard and understood and have their feelings validated," he says.
The child needs to be supported by the parent. Tobias says he can't stress enough how important this really is. Parents don't always stop to remember to express empathy because the parent immediately wants to jump into action and to fix the situation.
He also advises parents not to blame the child or guilt them into finding out how the bullying started. Grilling the child is not going to help. Tobias says the most important thing is that the parent NOT tell the kid to ignore the bully. He says it does not work. In fact, ignoring the bully will only escalate the behavior.
Once the child feels safe, a parent should then notify the school. "The kid can't handle this on their own. The parents should not contact the parents of the bully. The parents should immediately go directly to the school," insists Tobias.
Schools have a zero tolerance for bullying. They are very sensitized to the issue and have training in how to follow the laws around bullying and what steps to take.
He says it's very important to clear one thing up with a child who is being bullied. Many kids are afraid that if the school finds out there will be backlash from the bully and the bully's friends or that the child will be ostracized among his own friends.
Tobias says the child needs to be reassured that telling the school is not going to make it worse. It only makes it better. Telling the school also helps the bully too because the issues are then addressed and hopefully resolved.