Bullying: Lessening the Harm to Your Child

Stories of childhood bullying, spread quickly by social media, are making news headlines and bringing the dangerous behavior to light. A topic once contained to school and home conversations is now in the spotlight, with celebrities and community leaders alike speaking up against bullying and encouraging widespread awareness about the harm it causes.

Childhood bullying can be tough on parents, too, as they grapple with watching their child in pain and figuring out how best to help.

“Facing bullying is very scary – for the child and the parent,” says psychotherapist Shana Friedman, a licensed mental health counselor with Care & Counseling at Baptist Health South Florida. “It’s important for parents to understand that feeling scared is real and OK and know there is help.”

(Video: The Baptist Health News Team hears from Shana Friedman, a licensed mental health counselor with Care & Counseling, about the signs of bullying and tips on intervention that can help parents deal with this serious issue. Video by Irina de Souza.)

Bullying is different from an occasional conflict, according to Suzanne Keeley, Ph.D., a psychologist affiliated with Baptist Health and president emeritus of The Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention and Treatment, a Miami-based non-profit organization dedicated to preventing violence.

“In conflict, both parties disagree about something, but there’s no imbalance of power,” Dr. Keeley said.  “In a bullying situation, the child who is bullying has power over the victimized child and increases that power with each bullying incident.”

Bullying can have serious short- and long-term negative consequences, according to Ms. Friedman.

“Children who are bullied – or are a bully – are more likely to suffer from headaches and stomachaches, develop anxiety and depression and have a higher risk of suicide,” she said.

Other statistics show how harmful and pervasive bullying is:

  • 60 percent of males who bully in school have criminal records by age 24, according to a Clemson University study.
  • 75 percent of people say they have been affected by bullying.
  • Peers are present in 90 percent of bullying incidents.

Signs of Bullying

Anyone can be bullied, so it’s important to look for signs that bullying may be taking place.

“Parents know their child best. If they suspect there’s something bothering their child, there probably is,” Ms. Friedman says. “There are certain signs that a child may show that will help validate a parent’s concern that their child is being bullied.”

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ points to these red flags:
•    Unexplained injuries.
•    Changes in eating habits, including coming home from school hungry.
•    Complaints of stomachaches, headaches or illnesses and a desire to stay home from school.
•    Loss of interest in school and declining grades.
•    Sleep problems, including nightmares.
•    Diminished self esteem.
•    Loss of friends.
•    Self-destructive behavior and thoughts of suicide.


Today’s technology makes it easier for kids to bully others with a few clicks of a keyboard or snap of a photo. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email and other digital platforms are being used to divide people and create harm.

Cyberbullying – the use of electronic communication to send harmful, intimidating or threatening messages with the intent of negatively impacting the person being victimized – is being used to push peers out of their social network, leaving the targeted child suffering from loneliness, fear or shame.

Unlike other forms of bullying, the harassment, humiliation, intimidation and threatening of others through cyberbullying can occur 24 hours a day. It’s relentless and aggressive, often robbing the person being bullied of having a safe zone.

Seek Intervention for Your Child

If bullying, including cyberbullying, is suspected or confirmed by the child, Dr. Keeley and Ms. Friedman advise parents to have an open conversation with their child about what has happened. The American Psychological Association offers several books that can help parents to talk to their child about bullying.

Then, they recommend parents take the following steps to help their child:

  • Commend the child for coming forward, even if you had to prompt the conversation.
  • Speak to the child’s teacher, counselor and principal about what has happened.
  • Educate yourself about school policies related to bullying.
  • Provide tips to your child for dealing with the student who is bullying. The Melissa Institute; PREVNet, Canada’s authority on research and resources to prevent bullying; and the experts at Baptist Health’s Care & Counseling provide parents, teachers and children with strategies for coping with bullying.
  • Seek professional counseling.

“While bullying affects so many in our community – from children, to families, to educators – increased awareness and education goes a long way in curbing this problem,” Dr. Keeley said.  “If you don’t get immediate resolution to a bullying problem, work your way up until you move the mountain.  It takes a village to help these kids, and we all have a responsibility to do so.”

Parents Can Help Prevent Bullying

Dr. Keeley suggests that parents get ahead of any problem by speaking to their children early on about bullying.

“As soon as kids begin to interact with other children in playgroups or at school, parents should let their children know what behavior is acceptable, using age-appropriate vocabulary so they can understand,” she said.

A preschooler should be taught, for example, that hitting hurts others.  A school-age child should understand that laughing, poking fun of or isolating other students is not nice. Parents of middle school students should remind their children that pointing out others’ flaws can be embarrassing and hurtful. Older teens should learn from their parents that online insults threaten other’s well-being and sense of security.

Early and frequent conversations about bullying prepare a child on how to react if he or she becomes victimized by bullying or witnesses a bullying incident with another child, Dr. Keeley says. She recommends empowering children and teens to take action against the bullying by speaking up immediately or telling a trusted adult as soon as possible.

She also recommends that parents pay close attention to their own behaviors.

“Parents are the most powerful adults in children’s lives,” she said.  “When they model respectful language, compassion and empathy, they are teaching children to treat others as they would like to be treated.”

The Baptist Health South Florida News Team spoke with Shana Friedman, a psychotherapist with Care & Counseling at Baptist Health, about what parents can do to help their child cope with bullying. Watch the video now.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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