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Bullying has always existed.
Since the beginning of time, it has been human nature to be the best. For some, the only way to assert their strengths is to make others feel small, afraid, or insecure.

You have done everything in your power to raise a confident, strong child, but they are still subject to the same fears and insecurities as everyone.

And although bullying has always cost people their peace of mind, and their physical and mental health, home was always a sanctuary from the onslaught. Today, there are countless ways to be subjected to rumors, violence, and intimidation. From cloaking features that keep bullies anonymous to apps designed to directly target the victim and immediately dispose of the evidence, it has never been easier to climb into your home and into your child’s head.

There are important distinctions between not getting along with classmates and being targeted by abuse. You would do anything to protect your family, but sometimes all you can do is give them the tools to stand up for themselves, and a safe place to talk when things get hard. Helping them speak out when that line is crossed, showing them that they will be heard and helped, and being an advocate for them can make a life changing difference for your child, and their peers.

Red Flags

Often, children feel they need to protect their families from the effects of bullying. Whether they blame themselves for the abuse, or if they’re simply shamed into silence, you can’t help if you don’t know. Trying to get to the bottom of what’s bugging your child can feel like talking to a brick wall, but there are a few common red flags you can watch for to identify an escalating situation.

  • Missing or broken items of value
    If your child won’t tell you how their cell phone keeps getting broken, what happened to their favorite hoodie, or if their explanation for torn or damaged clothing doesn’t make sense, they may be avoiding telling you they’re being bullied.
  • Unexplained or ill-explained injuries

If your student shows frequent signs of injuries, unexplained scrapes, bloody noses, or bruises, this is a sure sign of concern. While iron deficiency or anemia may explain your child’s injuries, they need to be seen by a doctor for treatment, and to rule out more serious injuries or illness.

  • Secretive
    While all children reach an age where they start seeking a little privacy and independence, secrecy is different. Secrecy comes from a place of fear, shame, or embarrassment.
  • Weight loss/gain

While many young people find themselves bullied into an eating disorder, it quickly becomes apparent that food is something they do have control over. Sudden weight gain could mean they are hoarding food, hiding while they eat. Weight gain can also be a surprising result of binging and purging, or bulimia. Sudden weight loss may mean your child is restricting their food intake, purging, or simply that the stress is wearing them down.

  • Poor immunity

If your student is frequently ill, it can be an indicator that stress has taken its toll on their immune system. If they are only claiming to be ill, it’s a clear indicator that they are avoiding school for one reason or another.

  • Suddenly anti-social

If your child’s friends have suddenly stopped coming around, or if your child avoids social interactions, it may be an indicator of isolation. Whether this is self-induced or the product of being cast out by friends and classmates, isolation leads to deeper and long-lasting effects on mental health.

  • Self-Harm, Depression, Anxiety, Nightmares
    While all children go through stages of awkwardness and low self-esteem, if your child’s mental health is suffering, it’s more than an adolescent phase.
  • Slipping grades
    Difficulty focusing, anxiety during class, and an overwhelming sense of no longer belonging can quickly start to manifest as struggling with assignments.

This is not an exhaustive list, by any means, rather an idea of some universal signals of distress. You know your child, and if they are giving any signs of a struggle, there are things you can do to help.

If Your Child is Doing the Bullying

Your first thought when you find out your child is being bullied is that whomever is doing it must be a monster. Imagine the shock when loving parents find out that their child is the one hurting others. Your thoughts then tend to turn inward. What have you done wrong? Where did you fail your child? Just as parents who don’t understand why their children have hidden their own bullying feel lost, parents of bullies blame themselves.

The truth is, you can do everything right, and your child can still deal with a situation in the wrong way. That doesn’t make them a monster, and it doesn’t mean they are less deserving of your love and understanding. The first step is not to excuse the behavior. No matter why they did it, it was wrong and they need to correct their course. The next step is to identify why they turn to violence, aggression, or intimidation.

Many bullies are the product of bullying. After being pushed around, they fight back and overcorrect. Finding your student proper coping mechanisms while holding them accountable for their mistakes can feel like a tricky balancing act. The good news is, there is help right here in town.

Help, Whenever You Need It

Boys Town offers counseling, apps, hotlines, and guidance for your child and your whole family to face bullying head on. Whether your child is the bully or the bullied, they deserve patience, understanding, respect, and help.

Your child should see their primary care physician to get a good picture of their overall health. While some injuries are obvious, like scrapes and bruises, others are harder to spot. A few issues you may need a physician to help diagnose include:

  • Broken bones
  • Internal bleeding
  • Hidden self-inflicted cuts
  • Ulcers
  • Chronic stress-induced illness
  • Malnutrition

The road to healing, inside and out, begins with health.

The counselors at Boys Town have specific training to help families heal stronger together, and offer tools to help you communicate with your child’s school to help create a safe and inclusive environment for everyone.

If you have any advice for families dealing with trauma, please let us know in the comments. Communities are stronger together.

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