Sunday 18 August 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly: How to cope if your child is being bullied

Dr Ciara Kelly
Dr Ciara Kelly
Bullying can cause lasting problems for your child
Dr Ciara Kelly

Ciara Kelly

There's very little a parent wouldn't do to protect their child. I think most of us would take any kind of a hit to spare them suffering in any way. Luckily most kids aren't unwell or in danger so we never have to jump in front of that theoretical speeding train for them because they're grand - thank goodness. But one thing that parents often have to contend with is seeing kids getting bullied or even just excluded by their 'friends' from time to time and it's horrible.

There's a scale of things that can happen to your kids socially. It extends from everything going swimmingly, which is great, to them having frenemies - these are toxic friends who manage to make them feel bad all the time, to friends that capriciously exclude them from social gatherings which may or may not be malicious. Along to definite acts of bullying, when malice is certainly present and can mean everything from subtle meanness all the way along to physical harm.

And it can cause lasting problems for your child if it isn't properly sorted. Making them feel humiliated, isolated, hurt, angry, scared and leading to self-esteem and confidence issues and refusal to go to school, social withdrawal, depression or even suicidality.

It'll happen at some stage for every kid that they fall out with their pals or their peers, but how can you support them and equip them to be able to cope with the social fray - which particularly in the teenage years may not be all fun and games - especially when the one being bullied may not want the situation dealt with out of fear of it getting worse?

Dr Ciara Kelly
Dr Ciara Kelly

Well it really depends on how bad it is. But facing it head on is generally best. So if it happens in school time, you need to get straight on to the school and see what their policy around bullying is and make sure that they're actually living up to what may sound good on paper but may lack substance in practice. Never just accept that there's nothing they can do - some schools are way better at this than others.

If it's happening online - then that's a very good reason to delete some social media apps. Online bullying is insidious as it comes right into your child's home so they've no safe space to escape it. They may not want to be cut off from social media, as it can add to their sense of isolation - but if it's a conduit for abuse, then they need to take a break and if they do return online - they should do so with tight privacy controls. Threatening messages can and should be reported to gardai as well as directly to the social media platform. If it's going on in public places in your locality and you know the parents of those doing the bullying, an attempt to talk to them first may be helpful - if that doesn't work or if there's serious or physical harassment - again gardai may need to be involved.

Of course as well as dealing with the bullies, you need to deal with the fallout for your child. Talking is hugely important. They're already feeling isolated so they need somewhere to offload. Make sure you keep lines of communication wide open and offer lots of reassurance, love and support. They may also need counselling, this stuff knocks the stuffing out of you even as an adult - when you're 14 that's a thousand times worse.

The main thing is that they know they don't have to accept it and that they will find new friends who won't behave like this. It isn't unheard of for a child to move schools to get away from established harassment, although it'd always be my contention that the bully not the bullied should be moved. If you're dealing with this - there's lots of other helpful advice on ie.reachout.com

@ciarakellydoc

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