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On Wednesdays, we wear pink against bullying

As the iconic movie quote goes, “On Wednesdays, we wear pink.” It should come as no surprise that on every last Wednesday in February, a wave of pink floods schools, workplaces and social media feeds. Except this show of force has nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with compassion.

In this article, Lindsay Killam, MSW, RSW and the TELUS Health MyCare™ Clinical Director, Counselling Services, discusses: 

  • Signs that a child may be being bullied (or acting as the bully)

  • Tips for parents and loved ones who may be supporting a child dealing with bullying

  • How to help kids with social media and cyberbullying

Is my child getting bullied?

One in five kids is affected by bullying. "Bullying is a universal experience associated with shame, fear, and discomfort that is often shrouded in silence," says Killam. People who are inherently vulnerable to bullying are often targeted by their sexual orientation, gender, cultural or racial background.

“Everyone can reflect on their childhoods and in their adult lives of a time where they have felt threatened or uncomfortable by the behaviours of another person or felt neglected or left out,” explains Killam. “Bullying is an experience people can have at different points in their lives.”

Particularly for children and teens who are still developing, bullying can have profound, long-lasting effects. It can affect their self-esteem and academic performance and can escalate to depression, self-harm or suicide.

Killam explains that sometimes subtle changes in a child’s behaviour or disposition can signal that something is wrong. The child who loved school may not want to get on the bus, or the kid who excelled at after-school soccer might want to quit the team. “Parents might notice a change in behaviour or notice that their child is more withdrawn," she says. Noticing these changes can help to open the conversation about what they may be experiencing.

She suggests first acknowledging the child and remembering that what they’re experiencing is likely scary and painful. "Adults can create a sense of safety to start talking with the child, to be able to ask them how they’re doing and what’s going on in their daily life,” she says.

The delicate balance of support, reassurance and action may feel overwhelming for parents and loved ones of a bullied child, but there are resources to help. Seeking professional help for the child or the parent to guide the child can profoundly help with the healing process.

What do I do if my child is a bully?

Realizing that your child is bullying another is a painful experience for any parent and can feel like it’s coming out of left field for many. Killam explains that the goal in supporting a bully is not to shame them but rather to try to understand the root cause of the bullying behaviour and redirect it.

“Bullying is serving a purpose for that individual,” she explains. “It may be hard to understand at first, but by trying to connect with the child and starting the process of discovery, you can model empathy to help find a path of rehabilitation.”

Parents or caregivers may even have to go against certain values in the family system to try and change the bullying behaviour. Holding the child accountable, setting firm boundaries and guiding them through understanding their behaviour and the impact of their actions is complex. Many workshops and school programs are available, that can allow bullies to learn, grow and, ultimately, change their behaviour.

As a therapist, Killam uses curious questions to help bridge connections and explore where bullying may stem from. Bullies are often forged from their own experiences with negativity and bullying targeting them. Exploring curious questions like these can help adults see what the bully is experiencing: 

  • How would it feel if this was happening to you? 

  • What impact would you think this would have if someone did this to you? 

  • What's the purpose of this behaviour? 

  • What's the damage that it's causing?

How can adults help kids who are being bullied?

Parents are not alone in the fight against bullying. Teachers, relatives, coaches, and neighbours are just some support systems that could help the child and, in turn, the parent. If a child cannot have a “safe space” conversation with their parent, asking a loved one to step in can make all the difference in giving the child a space to speak up.

"Any adult could be that person to a child," explains Killam, reinforcing that even the smallest gestures can have the most significant impact. She encourages adults to simply ask the kids in their lives, "How are you doing?" 

Such a simple question can be a lifeline for a child who may feel shut down in silence. Listening to the answer might be a life-changing moment for them, too. 

For adults who are not the child’s parents or guardians, Killam recommends remembering that your presence is still precious to the child or teen in your life. You could be in the perfect position to help advocate for their safety and support, bridging the child with resources they might need help finding. Creating an atmosphere of openness and trust where a child feels seen and heard is a life-changing experience. 

How to help kids with social media and cyberbullying

Bullying is no longer confined to school hours or playground fences. It permeates every hour of a victim's life through their screens and online footprints. "Social media has changed everything. There's no sense of what's real and safe anymore," Killam acknowledges. 

Frequent news stories about suicide and trauma underscore the urgency of tackling social media and cyberbullying issues for kids and teens. The permanence of a picture, a comment, or a post can follow victims indefinitely, far beyond the school halls.

“If you look at what, historically, was ‘regular’ elementary or high school bullying 20 or 30 years ago, you could physically leave the bully behind when you went home for the day or moved on to university. Today, kids can post a picture of another person against their will online, and it can spread across a city — across a country — instantly,” explains Killam. 

Killam suggests a few ways to help kids with social media literacy. “Start conversations about social media and cyberbullying early so your child can develop skills to navigate virtual settings before they have a phone,” she says. 

Once they’re old enough to have their own phone, it may be too late to set the guardrails of online behaviour. “Set an understanding within your household that certain things are private. Maybe they have the freedom to text with friends, but as a parent, you need to know their social life and have visibility to their accounts,” says Killam. 

Additional support and resources to deal with bullying

There are many different resources available for both kids and adults who are dealing with bullying. Children can call or text Kids Help Phone any time and explore a wide range of resources on their website. Pink Shirt Day’s website offers resources for kids, parents, and teachers. 

Speaking with school counsellors and teachers can also help support kids and their parents. For individuals over 16, TELUS Health MyCareTM offers mental health counselling right from your phone.

If you or a loved one are in crisis, please call 9-1-1 or your local emergency services.

Users of TELUS Health MyCare must be 16 years or older to access counselling appointments. Counselling appointments require additional payment of $120 plus applicable taxes. Any payments for appointments must be paid using a valid credit card. An in-app receipt will be provided for you to claim for reimbursement if applicable.