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Time In with Dr. Tim: Giving your child tools to deal with bullying

October 31, 2014

As long as there have been children in social situations, there has probably been bullying. I imagine even the caveman-era kids and their parents had to deal with these issues. Most of the children we help at Youth Villages have encountered serious bullying or even been the bully.

Bullying is something all of us take seriously. In fact, many schools and organizations have zero-tolerance policies on bullying. But we all know it still happens. It’s important to recognize that both adults and youth have tools to deal with bullying behaviors. While it’s never children’s own fault when they are bullied, it’s important to empower them with ways they can respond when it happens. With some help, most kids are able to come through these pitfalls successfully.

Here are four types of bullying to look out for:

  • Verbal: threats, insults, name-calling or spreading rumors
  • Relational: social isolation or intimidation
  • Physical: violent physical assaults like kicking, punching or property damage
  • Cyberbullying: harassing others via social media and cell phone usage

When children talk to you about an incident that happened at school or on the playground, they may or may not call it “bullying.” Depending on their age, they may say: “Someone was mean to me,” or “Someone hit me.”

If your child is in danger physically or emotionally, you should step in; but many bullying incidents are not so extreme. First, help your child understand that he or she is not at fault, that there is nothing they should or could have done to prevent this. The bully has problems that need to be brought to the attention of people who can help and that needs to be done.

You can help your child think through the incident for himself or herself. Ask questions that guide the conversation.

“What could you do if this happens again?” you might ask.

Your child might reply: “I can’t do anything!”

This is a great time for your child to learn that there is always something he or she can do to respond or react to a situation. Guide the conversation and help your child come up with good reactions.

“Could you just walk away?” “Could you make sure you’re with a friend at the time something is likely to happen?”

Usually, your child will come up with an appropriate next step. Something your child is comfortable with and has thought up has the best chance of success.

It’s important for children to learn to stand up for themselves. You don’t want to go out and get boxing gloves like the dads in the old sitcoms did, but it’s good to teach your child different, effective ways to react.

We don’t do our children any favors by solving every problem for them. As part of their development, it’s good for kids to experience the satisfaction and empowerment that come from overcoming a tough situation. In life, people are mean sometimes; it happens on playgrounds and in conference rooms later on.

Learning ways to overcome a difficult situation gives children important life skills, increases their confidence and builds resilience. It helps children develop what psychologists call “self-efficacy,” that critical belief in our own ability to handle situations, complete projects, reach our goals.

As parents, we must step in when our children are in danger of physical or emotional harm. We also must help our children develop the skills to handle such life situations. If children are not in serious physical or emotional danger, guide them as they work through the experience on their own – it’s an important step in their development toward adulthood.

Tim Goldsmith, Ph.D., is chief clinical officer at Youth Villages, where he directs a staff of clinical specialists who oversee the work we do with children and families across the country.
Dr. Tim and his core clinical managers have nearly 100 years of experience helping children with the most serious problems. Together they oversee the counselors and specialists who work directly with parents, teaching them ways to help their children overcome serious problems and go on to do well at home, at school and in the community.


Dr. Tim Goldsmith, Youth Villages' chief clinical officer

Dr. Tim Goldsmith, Youth Villages’ chief clinical officer

Tim Goldsmith, Ph.D., is chief clinical officer at Youth Villages, where he directs a staff of clinical specialists who oversee the work we do with children and families across the country.

Dr. Tim and his core clinical managers have experience helping children with the most serious problems. Together, they oversee the counselors and specialists who work directly with parents, teaching them ways to help their children overcome serious problems and go on to do well at home, at school and in the community. This year, our clinical and counseling staff will help more than 22,000 children across the country.

Now Dr. Tim and his staff of experts can answer your questions, too. All parents have moments when they wish they could consult with an expert. If you have a question about your tween or teen’s behavior, send it to DrTim@youthvillages.org.

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