In my clinical practice, I’m currently treating children and adolescents most frequently for depression, anxiety and disruption of learning. In many instances, I've noticed that mental health issues are not the primary problem – children being bullied at school is the root of these mental health issues this year.
Children who are bullied often show signs of social withdrawal or a difference in the way that they act at home. Being bullied may result in a child not engaging with family members, isolating in their room, being more irritable, having trouble sleeping or showing a change in eating habits. Another sign is being more sensitive to criticism.
A child bullying others can also show signs of moodiness, sadness and poor school performance. Other signs of bullying behavior might be physical aggression at school or at home, and resistance to following rules.
Any sudden change in the child’s usual behavior could be a good indicator that something is going on. And these behavior changes can all affect performance in school.
What can parents do?
The interventions for someone being bullied or someone who is a bully would be similar. They’d involve communication and talking to your child to get a pulse on what's going on in their life, both at home and in school.
One of the ways parents can improve communication, specifically when they suspect that something is wrong, is being open and non-judgmental. Ask questions, be as communicative as possible and be open and honest yourself.
Try asking, "Hey, what was the best thing that happened in your day today?"
A lot of the times, simply letting your child know they are in a safe space and not in trouble can be key to discovering what’s causing the problems. It’s also important to let them know that you’re not disappointed or mad at them, because that can often lead to further roadblocks in communication.
Oftentimes, keeping in contact with teachers can provide additional insights and clues into the causes of a child’s behavioral issues.
If you observe that behaviors are not getting better in terms of school performance or behaviors at home, it is a good idea to seek professional help, which can take many forms. It could start with a psychiatric evaluation where a child may potentially need medication, or it could simply be through talk therapy where the child can learn how to express what's going on and how to cope with different types of stressors.
But every situation is going to be different, and the key to helping a child overcome bullying or any other behavioral issue is to start by sitting down and having an open, non-judgmental conversation.
That’s why it's important for parents to pay close attention to a child’s performance at school and be observant of any significant behavior changes at home. These can often give us clues that something is amiss, and that it’s time to talk about it.
Dr. Luis Fong is a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner with Denova Collaborative Health. He received his doctoral degree at Arizona State University and is board certified in tele-mental health. Denova Collaborative Health is an integrated behavioral health and primary care practice based in Phoenix. The company serves AHCCCS (Medicaid), Medicare, commercial insurance and private patients of all ages via both virtual visits statewide and in-person sessions from eight locations in the metropolitan Phoenix area. For more information, visit denova.com or call 602-230-7373.