by Dr. Anat Geva, Psychologist HealthONE Behavioral Health and Wellness Center

Adolescence is the time at which children emerge from the fold of their family and enter into society. One of the major developmental tasks they face, is making good decisions with less parental oversight and carving out their place in the social order. Children find “their place” and “their people” through daily encounters in class, on the playground, and while engaging with their neighborhood peers. Through the feedback they receive in each encounter, they discover who they are, and change their behaviors accordingly.

Children who grow up in homes where kindness and respect are valued for all (family members and people in general), who received enough attention and care and witnessed healthy conflict resolution, have an easier time getting through this turbulent time of rapid change to become stronger and more flexible. Children who do not feel secure at home, are not valued and have not learned to negotiate their needs with those of others, bring these patterns of relating to the social arena, and often try to get their needs met by domination. We call these interpersonally aggressive behaviors “bullying”.

Bullying behaviors, and their consequences, can go unseen by many, however, their effects are damaging and have lasting effects on one’s self-esteem and sense of belonging. Moreover, victims of bullying are at higher risk of adopting the destructive strategy themselves to get their own needs met at others’ expense.

It is crucial that we rally around victims of bullying, minorities, LGNTQI+ youth and other vulnerable individuals who are at greatest risk of being targeted. Equally though, we need to extend our compassion to those perpetrating the aggression; not without consequence or accountability, but with recognition that they have done the best they could with what they had. It is our responsibility to help all our children grow to be and do well, so that our communities can flourish and thrive.

Here are three ways you can support children with regards to bullying:

  1. Be available and listen. Children talk when they feel that they are listened to and that what they say matters.
  2. Withhold judgement about the causes of their behavior. This doesn’t mean that you endorse the behavior or that you don’t help child find more productive ways of dealing with social situations. Shaming children will merely push the undesired behaviors out of adults’ line of sight and make them harder to change so focus on understanding what they are communicating to you in words and actions.
  3. Treat children with kindness and respect, and expect to be treated with kindness and respect. We can tolerate feedback and input better when we feel cared for and valued. Modeling loving boundaries socializes kids as to what they can expect in society.

The HealthONE Behavioral Health and Wellness Center offers outpatient, inpatient and 24/7 treatment for children, adolescents, adults and seniors. Call (844) 566-2012.