Q: In my therapy practice, I often see kids who are being picked on by their peers. How can I help?
A:The way school professionals, therapists, and families view bullying has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Years ago, the predominant adult reaction to a child's complaints about being mistreated by peers was often annoyance, indifference, or a combination of sympathy and helplessness. Bullying was an inevitable, normal part of growing up, it was thought, and kids were largely expected to "work it out" themselves. The youngster doing the complaining was often accused of being a tattletale, implicitly blamed for the problem--it must have been something he or she had done that had triggered the bullying--and told that crying, showing fear, or anger in response just "encouraged" the bullies.
Now we know better. Kids who are bullied are no more to blame for being bullied than are victims of domestic violence for their partners' abuse. We understand that bullying can lead to a host of long-term problems, including poor school performance, illness, diminished self-confidence, anxiety, and depression.
The best approach is to develop comprehensive, schoolwide policies for creating a safe, secure environment for kids, along with a culture of mutual respect, positive relationships, and inclusiveness for all kids. But without the means to transform an entire school, how can a therapist help…