Intervene If Your Child is Bullied

Dr_Falcone_Tatiana_CCFDr. Tatiana Falcone, Child psychiatrist from Cleveland Clinic Children’s gives advice on immediate steps parents should take to mitigate the serious long-term risks posed by chronic bullying.

An established body of research has linked bullying to teen suicides, but a newer study suggests the effects of chronic bullying in childhood can affect victims into their adulthood. With bullying becoming increasingly widespread thanks to social media, an expert from Cleveland Clinic Children’s is advising parents to identify and deal with the phenomenon as soon as it appears.

“The nature of bullying is changing, and it cannot be dismissed as something that happens only among boys, and as something they will get over. It affects both sexes, particularly since the advent of social media, and recent studies have shown that the effects can be long term,” says child psychiatrist Dr. Tatiana Falcone.

Dr. Falcone points to a study published this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association that showed children who were victims of bullying were at higher risk of having depressive symptoms in adulthood.

While she did not take part in that study, Dr. Falcone says the results fit in with previous study findings. “In a research study we undertook for Cleveland Clinic Children’s a few years ago, our team found the effects of emotional trauma on children could have an impact on the brain as severe as if a person has suffered a traumatic brain injury,” she explains.

Dr. Falcone says the rise of digital devices and social media have changed the nature of bullying and it is more widespread today.

She adds: “The impact of cyberbullying on a child is as bad as face-to-face bullying. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center in the U.S., 36.7% of adolescent girls have experienced cyberbullying in their lifetimes, and 30.5% of boys.”

She points out that the cyberbullying differs from face-to-face aggression in that it not only affects children outside of the school grounds, but also has far more extensive reach. “A few years ago, if something happened in the classroom, only three or four people knew about it, but now the whole school will know about it,” she says.

Red Flags and Remedies

While children will not necessarily tell a parent that they are being bullied, Dr. Falcone says there are many red flags to look out for.

A common sign is a change in behavior patterns, for example, a child who used to like participating in school and school activities, suddenly doesn’t want to go anymore. Their grades might start going down, and they might disengage from family activities too.

She adds that some bullied children become irritable and cranky. “They may even become aggressive at some point, and we find that some children who endure chronic bullying end up becoming bullies themselves,” she says.

“The earlier we intervene, the better. As soon as a parent recognizes there is bullying or any type of trauma, they should contact the school to report it, and also try to remove the child from the environment immediately. If the child is an adolescent and the school is encouraging the child and bully to resolve the issue, they should provide an adult who is present to mediate the discussion.”

She adds that the parents should be vigilant and persistent. “They should insist that the school keeps them in the loop and takes all of the necessary steps to stop the bullying behavior as the consequences are serious.”

Therapy for Victims

If the child has already been bullied, the best form of therapy to address this is trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), according to Dr. Falcone. “It gives children tools to manage the narrative, and to manage the physiological reactions to trauma, such as a rapid heartbeat or excessive sweating.

“Trauma-focused CBT helps people recognize when they are stressed and use tools to decrease their stress levels. In the long term, this can reduce the risk of developing depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress syndrome. A combination of medication and therapy are often used to complement each other.”

Dr. Falcone emphasizes that depression is not the result of a single event, and there are other factors that influence it, for example developmental, genetic, and environmental factors.

However, as long-term bullying can lead to long-term effects, particularly in young children, it should never be ignored.

Dr. Falcone’s tips to tackle bullying

  1. The younger the child and the longer the bullying continues, the more harmful it is, so try to address it immediately.
  2. Report the bullying to the school, and ask to be kept in the loop about what measures have been taken and what the consequences are.
  3. Remove the child from the environment as soon as possible, for example changing them to a different class.
  4. Speak to your child and explain what bullying is so that they will be able to recognize it if it happens to them or anybody else.
  5. Ensure your children understand that they can speak openly to you about anything that happens or that they are worried about.
  6. Make a habit of checking their social media, web history including gaming sites, and school notebooks every week. Stress how important it is that they only accept requests or followers they know well. If you find anything worrying, take a screenshot or the written evidence with you to the school when you report the issue.
  7. If your child is being bullied on social media, put them on a ‘social media diet’, blocking any bullies, and cutting back on social media or accessing it only under supervision.
  8. Identify a ‘safe person’ at the school; this is a trusted adult, such as the school counsellor, who your child can approach if they are worried about anything.

3 thoughts on “Intervene If Your Child is Bullied

  1. Thank you so much for raising awareness to such a widespread epidemic! I know what it’s like to be cyberbullied. But I was an adult when it happened to me. I can only imaging what it does to a child!

    Great post!

    Scheduled for Reblog Friday on Chateau Cherie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Cherie, Being bullied whether online or in our physical life can have detrimental effects on our mental health. I am very sorry that you had to go through it and I hope you came out the other way much stronger! xx

      Liked by 2 people

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