Your child has been bullied, now what? As a parent, how do you know if you child will be okay or require mental health counseling? Being bullied was once considered a rite of passage and a way to toughen up. Today, we know that this traditional view on bullying is unacceptable and that bullying can lead to serious physical, emotional, and mental consequences. Thanks to new research on the topic and excellent campaigns to raise awareness we are learning more and more about the risks of bullying.
Risks of bullying
Recent research consistently shows that victims of bullying are at a higher risk of developing mental and emotional issues such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder, suicidal thinking, and low self-esteem. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry took research further and determined that the effect of bullying on victims lingers well into adulthood. The study found that adults who reported being victims of bullying in childhood were four times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder. The study’s lead researcher Dr. William Copeland compared the long lasting effect of bullying to maltreatment of abuse in the home.
Signs that your child may need counseling
The first step towards determining if your child needs counseling following a bullying incident is to stay calm yourself. Learning that your own child has been bullied can be a painful and emotional experience as a parent. Your initial reaction may be to seek justice and do anything and everything you can to make sure this does not happen again. Keep a level head and focus on your child by following these steps. It will help you determine the gravity of the situation and the state of your child’s mental and emotional well-being.
Show empathy. Your child has just gone through a traumatic experience. Be a shoulder to cry on, a good listener, and supportive. Express empathy by telling them you are sorry that this has happened to them. Explain to them that bullying is wrong and that it is not their fault that this has happened. It is common for children to think that they could have done something to prevent the bullying or it is somehow their fault.
Find the facts. Talk to your child about the details of what happened to determine the gravity of the situation. Was there physical violence involved? If it was verbal abuse, what was said? Was the bullying done in front of other? Resist the urge to criticize how your child responded to the bullying. Avoid saying, “you should have done this, you should have said that.” Figure out how to handle future situations together through some role playing. Help your child put it together him or herself. In some cases, there is nothing they could have done differently and be sure to tell them that.
Monitor your child’s behavior. Look for any changes in your child’s behavior following the bullying incident. Victims of bullying are at a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety so look for signs of these particular disorders. Recruit your child’s teachers to look out for any changes in behavior in the classroom.
Signs of Depression
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in eating habits
- Social isolation
- Disinterest in things or activities that were once of interest
- Fear going back to school
- Rapid weight loss or gain
- Drop in grades/school participation
Signs of Anxiety
- Muscle tension or pain
- Poor concentration
- Frequent urination
- Constant worrying
- Upset stomach
- Poor memory
- Sweaty palms
If your child is showing signs of depression or anxiety for more than 2 weeks following the incident it may be time to contact a mental health professional. Licensed mental health professionals are trained to properly treat depression and anxiety and can help your child developing effective mechanisms and strategies to cope with the effects of bullying.
Choosing a mental health professional should not be taken lightly. Counseling is most effective when the child is comfortable with the counselor. Look for a counselor that specializes in working within your child’s age group. Find online resources to help you find the right counselor for your child or ask your family doctor if they can recommend anybody.
Miguel Brown is a Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern and owner of Miami Teen Counseling. He received his Master Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Miami and has been helping teenagers and their families in a variety of roles for over 10 years. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.