It’s National Bullying Prevention Month, and about one in every five U.S. students between the ages of 12 and 18 said they had been bullied, according to a 2019 nationwide survey by the National Center for Education Statistics.
The effects of bullying may continue into adulthood, so health experts say prevention is critical.
It can impact every part of a person’s life, and being bullied as a child can leave lasting scars.
Jody Baumstein, a licensed therapist for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Strong4Life, says “It can make some kids feel hopeless, depressed, or even suicidal.”
Parents and caretakers play a big role in bullying prevention says Baumstein. “No child plans or wants to be a bully, so we have to think about what it is that’s going on.”
Baumstein says prevention starts at home by creating a safe environment where children can talk about their feelings.
“We don’t want kids to start to internalize things. Push things down. Suck it up. Because it’s going to come out at some point, it’s going to come out in other ways. It could come out at other people.”
Empathy is also a key component. Baumstein says to teach kids early how to think about others and how their behavior may impact someone else. “You can do this with play — when you’re playing with puppets, dolls, or anything else, get them to think about what the other characters or dolls might be experiencing. Or, if you’re reading a book stop and pause and ask them what do you think that character is feeling?”
Baumstein says to also teach coping skills to help children navigate their feelings so they don’t come out in other ways. “That could be everything from deep breathing to using physical activity and movement to relieve stress to being creative. It can be anything.”
Finally, teach by example. “We can’t expect kids to do something that we ourselves are not doing,” says Baumstein.
Baumstein says it’s also important for parents not to normalize bullying or downplay its effects. That includes bullying online or through text, which affected nearly one in six bullied teens surveyed.